Making Up For Lost Time

A decade later, new Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman gets a second chance - but without his guiding light.

July 09, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

When someone you love dies, the stories you tell about them - whether you're telling them to strangers on the street or to family members sitting around the dinner table - don't change. For the most part, it's the same details, same anecdotes, same punch lines, even years after they're gone. It's the tense, unfortunately, that changes.

He has a great laugh gets replaced by He had a great laugh. And while that might seem like a minor thing, it's not. Because in the beginning, every time you slip up or misspeak, it hurts all over again.

"My father, he wears his ring all the time," Todd Bozeman says. The 42-year-old coach is smiling. In a tiny, cluttered office with bare walls, in the middle of Morgan State's campus, Bozeman is telling a story about the ring he got for his father, Ira, after Bozeman guided the University of California to the Sweet 16 in 1993. Then in mid-sentence, he stops, realizing his mistake.

"He wore it all the time," Bozeman says. His smile fades for a second, then returns. "He always had that ring on. He was so proud of that ring."

Do you remember Bozeman? If you follow college basketball, you should. In the early 1990s, he was one of the game's brightest young coaches, taking over at Cal when he was only 29, and going 63-35 over 3 1/2 seasons.

He was a master recruiter and a tireless worker, and he took a program with very little recent tradition or history and thrust it into the national spotlight.

He introduced us to Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of the past 20 years, as well as NBA players such as Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Lamond Murray. But along the way, he did something foolish, something he may never be able to shake completely.

He cheated.

But no matter what you think about Bozeman - who had to wait out an eight-year "show-cause" ban issued by the NCAA in 1997 before he was hired in April by Morgan State - whether you believe that he deserves this second chance or not, understand this: He has paid a large price for his basketball sins. His father, Ira Bozeman, his best friend and biggest supporter, will not be courtside next season when his son coaches his first college game in more than a decade. In January, Bozeman buried his dad, who died after a brief battle with lung cancer. And though the years away from the game may have been a blessing, giving Bozeman more time with his father during his final years, months and eventually days, more than anything else, Bozeman wanted his dad to see him on the bench again.

"It's hard," Bozeman says, his eyes occasionally welling with tears. "It hurts. I would give anything just to see the smile on his face again. ... But I know he's guiding me. I know he's that voice that I keep hearing, telling me to keep patient."

A father's touch

When it came to basketball, at first glance, Ira Bozeman wasn't what most people would consider a patient man. When his son, Todd, joined his first team, but didn't play very much, Ira Bozeman decided he would fix this obvious injustice, and campaigned to coach the next year's squad. He helped found the popular Falconers Summer Basketball League in Prince George's County, and he drove buses, swept courts, kept score and did countless other tasks in his spare time. In the stands during his sons' high school basketball games at Bishop McNamara, you could hear him all game from across the gym, laughing, teasing, hooting and hollering with anyone and everyone, including the referees. He was immediately recognizable with his red hair and big grin.

"He was about 6-foot-1, 220 pounds," says Michael Bozeman, Todd's younger brother. "But just because of his presence, you would have thought he was 7-foot-2 and 500 pounds."

Though he worked three jobs to support his family after he got out of the Air Force, including as an office manager at the National Gallery of Art, Ira Bozeman never missed his sons' games. Never.

"If you talk with anyone in PG County, they knew my dad," Todd Bozeman says. "The refs, the parents, everybody. He'd be teasing people all game, just riding them, and the next thing you know, you look up and he'd be walking out with the guy he'd been jawing with. And he'd have his arm around them. ... I can remember one time I was with my parents, and they kept running into friends of theirs. Another guy came up to my dad and he said, `Man, have you ever met a stranger?' But that's just the way he was. Anyone who has ever met my dad felt close to him."

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