Thursday night in Kansas City, a great story will play itself out in the first round of the NCAA tournament — it’s an amazing account of a man who was down and out but has bounced back better than ever.
It’s the best basketball story in the state of Maryland in 2009.
And, with all due respect to Gary Williams, this isn’t about the coach of the Terrapins.
When Todd Bozeman was suspended by the NCAA in 1996, it was a decent bet that his college coaching career was over. The 8-year ban was intended to shove Bozeman so far out-of-sight-out-of-mind that no school would ever look him up again.
Booted from the college game for giving a recruit $30,000 so his parents could travel to see their son play, Bozeman spent the next ten years scouting for NBA teams and coaching amateur basketball. The NCAA placed him in “show-cause” status, meaning no other school could hire him without providing the NCAA with reasonable cause for employing him — and then, still, the NCAA would have to approve the hiring before it could become official.
It was the NCAA’s way of giving Bozeman a lifetime ban…without actually doing it.
Bozeman’s story wasn’t just about the $30,000 cash payment he made to a University of California basketball player. In the aftermath, he lied to the NCAA about it and became a symbol of the NCAA’s new crackdown on cheating coaches. He was banished — for good, perhaps.
In 2006, Bozeman got his second chance. Morgan State, fresh off of a 4-26 season and going nowhere fast in the world of college basketball, decided to ruffle a few NCAA feathers. They explained it like this: “We want to improve our school and the athletic program by committing new energy and money to the basketball team. To do that, we need a new coach. We want to hire Todd Bozeman to get our program back on its feet.”
The NCAA complied, despite rumors that it wasn’t exactly a unanimous vote to reinstate Bozeman.
And then, Todd Bozeman did the right thing.
He came clean.
He showed up at Morgan State and faced the media. He answered all the questions.
“Yes, I cheated.”
“No, it wasn’t anyone else’s fault.”
“I’m here to turn my life around and show everyone that I can rebound from all of this.”
“I was punished accordingly and I’m moving on.”
There was no bitterness in Bozeman’s voice when he was announced as Morgan State’s new head coach on April 26, 2006.
A few years after his suspension, the NCAA asked Bozeman to testify at a hearing involving Jerry Tarkanian’s cheating scandal. Bozeman, they assumed, could listen to the evidence and connect the dots. After all, if you’re going to try and nab a cheater, why not bring one in and let him be the judge, right?
Bozeman refused. “I’m not violating that code,” Bozeman said at the time. “If they have evidence against Jerry, they need to bring that out themselves. I don’t know anything about his situation. I’m trying to get mine straightened out.”
Some basketball folks in the country pressured Bozeman to testify, reminding him this would be a great opportunity for the former Cal coach to do the NCAA a favor…and, perhaps, they’d do one for him in return.
Bozeman didn’t testify.
Morgan State then came along, took the gamble of all gambles – hiring a confessed cheater – and Todd Bozeman was back.
He had done wrong, paid the price and was wanted again.
And, he did it all his way…which, turned out to be the right way.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for Bozeman at Morgan State. While the Bears and their fans have been enamored with his work on Hillen Rd., opposing schools have chided him over the last three seasons with chants of “Thirt-ee Thous-and” – clap, clap, clap-clap-clap – “Thirt-ee Thous-and”. He’ll live with that forever, no matter what accomplishments he garners from here on in.
Still, he remains unfazed by it all and refuses to take shots at his detractors. “I’ve moved on from that,” Bozeman stated. “I’m trying to win basketball games and reward Morgan State for giving me a second chance. I don’t have time to worry about what people are saying.”
In 1993, Bozeman’s Cal Bears beat 2nd seed Duke. The 29-year old fresh-faced coach of Cal was the talk of the college hoops industry. Six years later, he was the talk of the industry again — only this time, for the wrong reasons.
This Thursday in Kansas City, Bozeman will again be the talk of the industry when the Bears face Oklahoma in the opening round of the tournament. He has done the unthinkable – Morgan State is going to the NCAA’s big dance.
Regardless of what happens in Kansas City, the Todd Bozeman comeback story is now complete.