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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Maybe Morgan State just picked the wrong nickname. Bears generally go to sleep in the fall and awake in the spring, and for the last 30 years, Morgan State basketball has done exactly that -- no MEAC titles since the conference's pre-Division I days in 1977.
"Our theme this year is, 'The Bears are coming out of hibernation,' " new head coach Todd Bozeman said. The ex-California coach took over the program after Butch Beard's five-year rebuilding project ended in a 4-26 winter-long nightmare. With the least efficient offense in the country (.767 points-per-possession), it sure seemed like the Bears were sleepwalking.
On the surface, it might seem as if Bozeman has spent some time holed up in cave, too. He hasn't coached college basketball since 1997, when he admitted to the NCAA that he had paid $30,000 over two years to the family of Cal player Jelani Gardner, and then denied it -- a clear and shameful violation. Bozeman's 63 wins were shaved down to 35 after every one involving Gardner was forfeited.
Bozeman was barred from coaching college hoops for eight years, unless a school sought permission from the governing body and persuaded the NCAA infractions committee with a list of ways the school will monitor his compliance. The "show-cause" ban ended in June of 2005, but Bozeman had to wait a bit longer before a Division I program would take a chance on him. The call finally came this spring, ending a decade away from the sideline.
"It was great in a lot of ways ... I was able to spend time with my family, my dad, my kids," said Bozeman, who was hired as Morgan State's 15th head coach on April 27. "But I wasn't doing what I really enjoy doing."
Despite his decade-long absence, Bozeman stayed connected to basketball. He spent four years as an NBA scout, ran workouts for draft-eligible college players, and coached youth ball. He also oversaw camps and clinics both around the country and on other continents.
"It wasn't like I was away from the game," he said. "It was just a matter of me changing sides. At ABCD camp this summer, I went from being on the court to being on the other side of the rope."
And he had at least a passing familiarity with his new team. On a Monday night last February, Bozeman took his son to Howard's Burr Gymnasium to watch the Bison blow out Morgan State, despite a 22-point effort by then-junior guard Joseph McLean. It just so happened that two months later, Bozeman was in his new office up in Baltimore, cleaning out the Bears' roster.
"Some of the guys transferred on their own," Bozeman said. "Some of them, I thought it would be best if we part ways and let everyone start anew."