Bears, coach savor moment

March 16, 2009|By DAVID STEELE

The Big Dance. That's what Todd Bozeman was doing in the front row of the theater at Morgan State's student center, swaying and bouncing to the school band as the screen behind the stage showed, muted, CBS' Selection Sunday show.

This was a different wave of emotion overtaking the Bears coach from the ones the night before in Winston-Salem, N.C. Then, in the moments after Morgan State's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship victory, he choked up as he spoke of achieving the unprecedented at Morgan and rising beyond the NCAA's exile that had derailed his coaching career - but also of not having his father there to see it.

No tears last evening, though, just joy, and it rippled through the room full of students, alumni, faculty, cheerleaders and supporters as they waited with Bozeman and his players to see their school's name in an NCAA Division I tournament bracket for the first time.

"I try to get my guys to understand - enjoy the moment," Bozeman said later, after a comically drawn-out wait was rewarded with the magic words, "15, Morgan State," in the South Regional, the 59th name called in the 65-team field. "It's not guaranteed that it'll happen all the time. And for the seniors, that's it. I try to get them to enjoy the moment, the experience."

At last, Morgan State gets to do this year what UMBC got to do last year: join the party after having to peer through the window with envy. The bids that get taken for granted by the big-time schools in the power conferences are savored by schools such as this one.

It's a sure thing that all the other schools making their NCAA tournament debuts partied on their campuses just as jubilantly.

Of course, none of them was celebrating along with a coach who, as he said yesterday, once heard people tell him, "You need to do something else because you're not going to get back into coaching college basketball."

Bozeman will show up in Kansas City, Mo., as one of the most famous, or infamous, coaches in the field. A decade in the wilderness from the NCAA's "show-cause" penalty for his violations at California in the 1990s will do that to you.

He arrives with a team that last was relevant in the 1970s, when it was a Division II power. Their twin stories will be among the tournament's most powerful and alluring. To the idea that there might be a backlash against a coach who had been slapped with one of the NCAA's worst penalties, and the program he now runs, Bozeman says he has never heard that.

"I paid my dues," he said. "I don't think of it from that standpoint."

He said, in fact, that he generally is not one to reflect. Good, because this moment is enough to occupy any mind. There is only one first time, and no other time is like it. Morgan State finally gets to see, hear and taste what nearly every other school in the state already has. A coach who was told he might never get a college job again is the man who took them there.

If that doesn't get you dancing, nothing will.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1370 AM.

NO. 15 MORGAN STATE (23-11) VS. NO. 2 OKLAHOMA (27-5)

Thursday, 9:40 p.m. (approx.), Kansas City, Mo. TV: Chs. 13, 9

oklahoma at a glance

Record: 27-5 (16-1 home, 8-3 road, 3-1 neutral)

Starting lineup: 6-3 G Austin Johnson (3.9 assists), 6-6 G Tony Crocker, 6-10 F Blake Griffin (21.9 points, 14.3 rebounds), 6-7 F Taylor Griffin, 6-4 G Willie Warren

Summary: Blake Griffin ranks at the top of many lists for National Player of the Year. He is shooting 63.5 percent. The Sooners are 2-4 in their past six, losing to Oklahoma State in the second round of the Big 12 tournament. Though Oklahoma didn't play Morgan State this season, the Sooners faced two other members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference - Coppin State and UMES - beating them by a combined 67 points.

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