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Original Issue

College Basketball

Nice Rebound

After a period in purgatory, coach Todd Bozeman has once-downtrodden Morgan State headed to the postseason

IN APRIL 2006 Todd Bozeman was working in Washington, D.C., as a sales rep for Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, and preparing to coach the D.C. Assault in its upcoming AAU season. Forty-five miles up I-95, Morgan State, a historically black university that plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, had limped to a 4--26 season, its 17th consecutive nonwinning campaign. Both the salesman and the school were ready for a change, and Morgan State president Earl Richardson took a gamble. He hired Bozeman, who in 1996, three years after coaching Cal to the Sweet 16 at the age of 29, was caught cheating, having paid $30,000 in travel money to the parents of a recruit named Jelani Gardner. The NCAA hit Bozeman with an eight-year "show-cause" ban, during which any school wishing to hire Bozeman had to first clear the move with the NCAA. He was effectively banished from the profession.

The transgression of Bozeman, who also had spent some of his time in the wilderness as an NBA scout, did not deter Richardson. "After talking with him, I was convinced that, yes, this was a man who had faltered but who had learned a great lesson and would be a good example for young people," he says.

The gamble paid off big-time. On March 1 the Bears (20--9) clinched the regular-season MEAC title, its first in school history, and finished undefeated at home (12--0). Winning the league gave Morgan State an NIT berth, but a victory at this week's conference tournament would assure the program its first trip to the Big Dance. "I always believed I would get back," Bozeman says. "[Other coaches] were encouraging me to keep trying, but you could hear it in their voices that they didn't believe it [would happen]."

Bozeman, who was raised in Forestville, Md., used his local connections to turn the program around. Seven of his 12 Bears are from Maryland, most notably senior point guard Jerrell Green, a Baltimore native, who leads the MEAC in assists with a 4.04 average. A product of Seward County (Kans.) C.C., Green chose Morgan State to learn the point guard skills that Bozeman taught Jason Kidd when he was at Cal. Green was one of five out-of-state transfers Bozeman recruited to immediately upgrade the roster. Senior Boubacar Coly, a 6'9" center who left Xavier to join the Bears, is the league leader in rebounding (11.1 per game) and has 76 blocks. The top scorer, senior guard Jamar Smith (17.6 points per game), came from San Bernardino (Calif.) Valley College. And Bozeman found versatile junior forward Marquise Kately (12.6 points, 6.2 boards) at, of all places, Cal. This veteran talent has given Morgan State the ingredients to pull off an upset come tournament time.

And what happens after the season is over? Will Bozeman's past prevent him from getting another shot at coaching a major-conference school? When asked about moving up the Division I ranks, Bozeman invokes the advice he gave players whom he worked out for the NBA draft. "You only need one team to like you, not all of them," he says. "I can't hire myself. I've proven that I can build a program, and I've followed the rules. If I don't get another chance, that's fine, because I'm coaching, and that's what I love to do."

NOW ON SI.COM Stewart Mandel's real-time bubble watch and bracket.



SALES PITCH To build his Bears, Bozeman savvily wooed locals and transfers.