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Haste Made Waste
Alexander Wolff
September 09, 1996
Cal's basketball coach, Todd Bozeman, was a man in a hurry, until charges of wrongdoing halted him
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September 09, 1996

Haste Made Waste

Cal's basketball coach, Todd Bozeman, was a man in a hurry, until charges of wrongdoing halted him

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Alameda county Superior Court is not where Todd Bozeman has been accustomed to making a name for himself. For the past 3½ years his province was Pete Newell Court, in Harmon Gym on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where the rosters of his Golden Bears basketball teams were studded with as much young talent as any in the land.

But last Friday morning Bozeman stood instead before a judge in an Oakland courtroom, at a hearing to determine whether a temporary restraining order, issued against him at the request of a former Cal undergraduate, should be dropped or made permanent. In May, Bozeman had given the 22-year-old ex-student, Suzanne Wilson, $2,000 to sink into an "investment club" called Friends Helping Friends. But soon afterward Bozeman was among scores of Bay Area residents who learned with alarm that county prosecutors considered Friends Helping Friends to be an illegal pyramid scheme.

Bozeman says he lent the money to Wilson to help her pay for law school; she says that there was no loan, that he invested in the scheme and called to cash out. She also says he continued to call her, lacing his conversations with sexual references, a charge Bozeman denies. On Aug. 6 he showed up at her workplace on campus and pressed her for the money. She says he threatened her; he says he only threatened to turn her in to the police.

Two days before Friday's court appearance another get-rich-quick scheme had collapsed of its own rickety contradictions. With the NCAA enforcement staff expected soon to deliver an official letter of inquiry detailing alleged recruiting violations, Cal officials asked for and got Bozeman's resignation as coach. His departure followed nearly 43 months of turmoil and turnover in the basketball program at the gemstone of California's university system. Over that time there unfolded a Theodore Dreiser story updated for our times, a tale of blind striving, greed, betrayal and comeuppance, involving not only the coach but also players and parents. There is a featured role for the pestilence of the moment in college athletics, the professional sports agent. And there might even be vindication, albeit of a hollow kind, for the man Bozeman replaced, Lou Campanelli.

Tom Gardner, the father of guard Jelani Gardner, who has since transferred from Cal to Pepperdine, has told the NCAA that Bozeman promised him and his wife, Linda, $15,000 a year so they might travel to follow their son's college career. Further, Tom and Linda say that Bozeman, through an intermediary, arranged for most of that money to be delivered. The Gardners secretly taped a conversation between themselves and Bozeman in which the cash is discussed, and they have supplied the tape to NCAA investigators.

Bozeman, 32, says he did nothing wrong. But what is on that tape more than anything else—more than the seven Golden Bears players who transferred out over the last 3½ years; more than the disciplinary actions against players and the NCAA probes that had addled the program since he took over; more than Friday's bizarre court hearing, in which judge Dawn Girard postponed the case until Sept. 5, leaving the restraining order in place—accounted for Bozeman's being shown the door last week, in spite of his 63-35 record, three NCAA tournament appearances in four years and three years remaining on a $350,000-a-year package. (Cal will pay him his base salary through the coming season.)

With its move last week Cal demonstrated that at Berkeley, winning isn't quite everything—at least not yet. "The truth is, you don't have to cheat here to keep your job," says Pete Newell, the Hall of Famer who in 1959 coached the Bears to their lone NCAA title. "You may have momentary glory, but in the long run it hurts you more. See, at Cal, the alums don't want a national championship every year, or even every decade. They want to be proud."

There isn't much to be proud of there now. Last week's events opened a window on player procurement in college basketball today, revealing a state of affairs that extends well beyond Berkeley. And they hint at what may be the real shame of the game. One prominent players agent told SI recently, "If a major football school really wants someone, it can almost always find a booster to FedEx $10,000 or $15,000 to that player. But basketball isn't run by boosters. Basketball is run by agents."

Over the past decade no quality better characterized Bozeman's professional life than speed. He was working as a Federal Express deliveryman and assistant high school coach in 1988 when he quit to become a $9,000-a-year graduate assistant at George Mason. Within two months he had moved to New Orleans, where Tulane was bringing back basketball after a point-shaving scandal had shut down its program for four seasons. He was 24, the youngest assistant coach in the game.

"You goin' too fast," Tulane coach Perry Clark would tell his young recruiter.

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