As he nears 50, coach Todd Bozeman looks to create new memories at Morgan State

Struggling Bears face important game Friday night in College Park against Maryland

  • Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman gestures from the sideline during the second half of a 95-75 loss to Towson earlier this month. In the final year of his contract, Bozeman's future with the Bears is uncertain beyond this season.
Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman gestures from the sideline… (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
November 28, 2013|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Of all the college basketball games Todd Bozeman has coached in over the past 20 years, two have given him the most recognition.

The first came in St. Louis during the 1993 NCAA tournament, when a Jason Kidd-led California team coached by a 29-year-old Bozeman, who replaced Lou Campanelli after he was fired mid-season, beat two-time defending champion Duke in the Sweet 16.

"My guys had always said they wanted to play Duke," Bozeman recalled earlier this week. "People still notice me because of that and they say, 'I remember when your guys beat Duke.' You're talking 20 years. Jason is now a coach."

The second game came in College Park during the 2008-09 season, Bozeman's third at Morgan State, when a team that would win 23 games and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I program beat Maryland at Comcast Center.

Asked what he remembered about the one-point victory over the Terps, Bozeman said: "Seeing the look on the guys' faces and Itchy [point guard Jermaine Bolden] saying, 'Boze, I ran that show, didn't I?' I remember their faces, and them saying, 'We did it.'''

Two decades after besting Coach K, five years after doing the same to Gary Williams, the soon-to-be 50-year-old Bozeman will get a chance to add another resume-building win Friday night when Morgan State (1-6) plays Maryland (4-2) in College Park.

For Bozeman, a lot has happened since the last time the two teams met.

The Bears won a school-record 27 games and reached the NCAA tournament again in 2009-10. But Bozeman's teams have not come close to that level since.

Two years ago, the Bears started 0-7 and finished 9-20. Worse, Bozeman was placed on administrative leave for 10 days for a nationally publicized incident in which he was accused by the president of South Carolina State of striking one of his own players.

Bozeman, who vehemently denied the charge, was reinstated after an investigation by university President David Wilson proved "inconclusive." The player Bozeman allegedly struck, Larry Bastfield of Baltimore, told a panel investigating the incident that the contact was inadvertent.

"That was clearly blown out of proportion and wasn't handled right by either party on either end [Morgan State or South Carolina]. I'm not even talking about from my standpoint, but things happen and you move on," Bozeman said Sunday night in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Bears and Terps were participating in the Paradise Jam, won by Maryland.

While Bozeman returned to the bench with a noticeably calmer demeanor, he said the incident didn't change the way he coached. If anything, it's because of his age and the fact that he has started doing yoga and, more recently, meditation.

"It's a different breed of kids, and as a coach, you've got to adjust," Bozeman said. "It's just me maturing and just handling things different. I still get after them now. As long as they are bringing it, I'm going to be calmer. If they're not, I've got to pick them up."

Senior center Ian Chiles said that since he was a freshman, Bozeman "has definitely got a little milder. He's still the same guy, but he's dealing with different guys now. He's toned it down a little bit, but not much."

Blake Bozeman, the coach's son and a junior point guard, said the coaching staff often tells the players that "he's way softer than he used to be, he explains things more than he used to. He's mellowed down, but he still never lets up."

Along with the graduation of several talented players from a group that helped win three straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season titles, cutbacks and changes at Morgan State over the past few years have hampered Bozeman's pursuit of success.

Just as Maryland and Towson had to trim budgets, so, too, did Morgan State. There was also the change in leadership at the historically black university, when longtime President Earl S. Richardson, a huge supporter of intercollegiate athletics, retired and was replaced by Wilson, whose mandate has strictly been to raise the school's academic profile.

"It's a challenge because we don't have the resources. It's it's hard to maintain that [success] when you don't have the money to recruit," Bozeman said. "What really affected us is when we won 27 games and went to the tournament, we had two guys who couldn't come back and play."

Bozeman declined to elaborate on the reasoning, citing a privacy issue.

"Sean Thomas was the starting point guard and he was coming back for his junior year. Joe Davis averaged double figures off the bench. I kind of recruit and plan for people to fill slots and when one leaves, someone else takes over. Each year is somebody else's turn. That would have been Sean Thomas' and Joe Davis' turn."

Despite the 1-6 record, Bozeman believes "we're getting it back now with this recruiting class — those guys are going to be really solid players. I like the leadership they have. I like the energy. We still got to get more players."

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