For a few minutes, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman was allowed to dream. It was a scene out of "Hoosiers.'' His undermanned Bears from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference had big, bad West Virginia of the Big East on the run, down 10-0 and looking bewildered.
"Those damn 40-minute games,'' Bozeman lamented after losing to the Mountaineers, 77-50, in an NCAA Tournament first-round game Friday at HSBC Arena. "If we had it at 12 minutes, we would have won the game.''
When the game got away from the Bears in the second half, some of Bozeman's players began to show their frustration. He told them not to act out on the floor.
"I tell them there's consequences for your actions,'' Bozeman said. "Obviously, I lived through that.''
Losing to West Virginia the way Morgan State did actually was one of the bright spots in The Todd Bozeman Story because it showed how far he has come since his banishment from college basketball in the fall of 1996.
If the name sounds familiar, it's because Bozeman took over at Cal in February 1993 and had great success for four seasons until recruiting violations caught up with him.
Bozeman admitted paying the parents of one recruit $30,000, for which he received a "show cause'' ban lasting eight years. Any school that wanted to hire him had to go before the NCAA infractions committee and show cause why he should be allowed to return. None did.
So Bozeman went straight. As he jokes, "I sold legal drugs'' as a representative for Pfizer pharmaceuticals. He also kept his hand in the game by coaching AAU basketball in Washington D.C. "I went from coaching a Pac-10 team to coaching 9-and-under,'' he said, "and having a parent tell me how to coach the team.''
In 2006, Bozeman got the break he needed when he was asked to take over Morgan State's program after a 4-26 season. The Bears won a regular-season title in his second season and have made it to the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.
This year's team overcame enough adversity for a country-western song. One player was diagnosed with cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. Another had a daughter who was born blind and had a tumor removed. Bozeman's son was undercut in a basketball game, suffered brain swelling and needed six staples to close a head wound. Just before the NCAA Tournament, another player's father committed suicide.
If there's one thing the Bears have learned, it's that there are worse things than losing a basketball game. Meanwhile, Bozeman perseveres in the hope that a major college will recognize he admitted his mistakes and learned from them, and decide to give him a second chance.
Asked what it will take for him to make it back to a big-time school, Bozeman said, "I don't know. It'll take one. One school, one AD, one president. You just need one. I'd like to think I've paid my dues and put the time in. If it comes, fine. If it doesn't, I'm happy at Morgan.
"It is what it is. But I'm in college basketball. I'm having fun. Trust me, those 10 years sitting out were tough, I mean, really tough. I learned a lot about myself.''
Told there are a few job openings in the New York area, Bozeman just laughed and said, "We will see.''