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Morgan State held its first basketball practice last Friday night, and it didn't go well. As the team scrimmaged, coach Todd Bozeman had to halt the action every few minutes for a new admonishment. Set up deeper for the inbounds pass.... Don't let your man get behind you like that.... Are you really going to play defense with your hands on your knees?
Even if it wasn't the most encouraging display of basketball prowess, Bozeman still had to smile afterward. "I've been wanting to practice for the longest time," he said.
He's been waiting 10 years, to be exact, since being sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations he committed at Cal, but now he's back. True, it's at Morgan State, which went 4--26 last year playing in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and hasn't had a winning season since 1989. But Bozeman, whose Cal team once knocked Duke out of the NCAA tournament, doesn't seem to mind that he's now gunning for Delaware State. "Think about it," says Bozeman, 42. "The last few years I've been coaching 9-and-unders, 10-and-unders, 11-and-unders."
Bozeman was once the boy wonder of college basketball. He took over in Berkeley in 1993, after the midseason firing of Lou Campanelli, and at 29 he became the youngest coach to take a team to the Sweet 16. He guided Cal to three NCAA tournament appearances in four years while producing three NBA lottery picks: Jason Kidd, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Lamond Murray.
But then he got caught cheating. In 1994 Bozeman had promised the parents of Jelani Gardner, California's high school player of the year, $15,000 a year in travel money as an inducement for their son to sign with Cal. A year later Gardner's father, upset with his son's playing time, secretly taped a conversation with the coach in which they discussed their financial arrangement; in 1996 he turned Bozeman in to the NCAA. The punishment, handed down the following year, was predictably harsh: an eight-year "show-cause" ban during which any school wishing to hire Bozeman had to clear it first with the NCAA. He was effectively done.
Even though he'd been exiled to the basketball wilderness, Bozeman tried to keep a hand in the game. He traveled to Africa and South America for clinics. From 1998 to 2001 he scouted for the Toronto Raptors, and for the last five years, while living in his old hometown of Bowie, Md., and working as a sales rep for Pfizer, he coached AAU youth basketball.
The NCAA sanctions expired in 2005, but only this spring did Bozeman get his first head-coaching interviews, at Hampton (which didn't offer him the job) and Morgan State, which last April gave Bozeman a three-year contract with a $135,000 annual base salary. Athletic director Floyd Kerr says he hired Bozeman for his knowledge of the local AAU scene and also for the attention he would bring to a struggling program. "We're a country that's noted for second chances," adds Kerr.
Bozeman now says that no recruit is worth risking what befell his program at Cal. He says his reason for cheating was "self-induced pressure, feeling like I had to get that kid. And I really didn't. I've told my staff [at Morgan State], 'Don't ever feel like you can't go on without any one player.' I'm not going to put myself in that situation again."
Bozeman believes his banishment was a blessing in some ways. Had he stayed in coaching, he never would have spent as much time with his son, Blake, 14, and daughter, Brianna, 13. He also got to spend time with his father, Ira, who died last January from lung cancer. "The only thing I'm sorry about is that my dad didn't live to see this," he says of his new job.
As Bozeman sees it, he made a mistake, suffered the consequences and is now beginning anew. But reminders of the past linger. One small irony is that Morgan State and Cal share a nickname, the Golden Bears.