Return to Glory for a Team, Redemption for a Coach

March 16, 2009

I’ll always have a special fondness for Morgan State University.   Morgan State was one of the few schools that considered giving me a football scholarship when I was in high school.   Later that same school year I watched Morgan State win the NCAA Division Two basketball championship on national TV.   Morgan State was then led by a skinny, 7-foot center named Marvin Webster.  That guy could really fill the middle and block some shots.  He was appropriately nick-named the Human Eraser.  It seemed inevitable that Morgan State would win.  The Eraser and his team were exciting to watch.

That was 1974.  And for all practical purposes the high point for Morgan State basketball.

These days Morgan State is a Division I school.   Part of the historically black MEAC.  Sadly there have been lots of losing seasons and no conference championships since then.  Until now.

Indeed this has been quite a season for the Morgan State Golden Bears.  The biggest highlight until winning the MEAC tournament was Morgan’s stunning upset of the University of Maryland on January 7.   Morgan State traveled 35 miles up the road to College Park and beat the Terrapins at home 66 – 65.   By traditional big versus little standards, it was an embarrassing loss for Maryland but an affirmation of progress for up and coming Morgan State. unknown1

But as big as that victory was, Morgan State had never gone to the NCAA’s Big Dance.  But that drought ended last week when Morgan State knocked off Norfolk State 83-69 in the finals of the MEAC tournament to gain an automatic berth into March Madness.   On Thursday Morgan State will take its 23 and 11 record to Kansas City where they will face one of the nation’s top teams in the University of Oklahoma.   Morgan State is a 15 seed.  Oklahoma in the top ten all year is a number 2 seed.  Morgan State will be huge underdogs.  But so what.   Morgan State is finally in and for now with so many losing campaigns this is a return to that glorious time 35 years ago when Morgan State basketball was on top.

This is also a redemption of sorts for Golden Bears coach Todd Bozeman.

Bozeman in his third season leading Morgan State has completely turned the program around.  When he arrived the team just finished a 4 and 26 season.    Bozeman came to Morgan State after serving what is often called the “death penalty” sentence for coaches in NCAA basketball for a recruiting violation while he was the head coach of the University of California.  Bozeman was charged with paying a recruit’s parents $30,000.  At the time of the violation Bozeman was considered a rising star in big time college basketball coaching ranks.   During his four seasons as coach at California, Bozeman even led them to the Sweet Sixteen.   But the recruiting disaster ended Bozeman’s time at Cal and very nearly his career.  But thanks to second chances and Morgan State, Bozeman’s coaching career has new life.  070205_bozeman_hmed_12phmedium

No one is giving Morgan State much of a chance against Oklahoma.  The Sooners have been in the top ten all year, and are led by the nation’s best player and probable national player of the year, Blake Griffin.  But not many gave Morgan State or its coach much of a chance to get this far.   So I say good luck to Morgan State and happy returns for Todd Bozeman.


Frantic February

February 22, 2009

 

20087710932Frantic February is the time of year when college basketball teams start making their closing arguments for selection to the NCAA Tournament.  For sheer unpredictability, chaos, nail biting and whining there is nothing like the weeks leading up to March Madness.  

Every year it seems there is a surprising Cinderella.  The unexpected team from nowhere that makes a tantalizing trip through its conference, to the Sweet 16 and sometimes even the Final Four.   Each season a breakout star captures our imagination.  Sometimes its a guy with no shot at the NBA, but with everything it takes to lead his team to a college title.  Further you can count on several top coaches coyly downplaying their talented teams’ prospects, while we also hear others whine about an unfair selection process that kept their schools at home.  But that’s what makes this party great and this time of year incomparable.  

And its already beginning.  In the last week alone, number one U-Conn, which showcases pterodactyl-like center Hasheem Thabeet, gets manhandled by super aggressive Pittsburgh.   Oklahoma, which was poised to take over number one, gets knocked off by Texas when player of the year favorite Blake Griffin suffers a concussion.  And super talented number 3 ranked North Carolina, led by 3-time All America, Tyler Hansbrough is stunned by the over-achieving Terrapins from the University of Maryland.  This is a Maryland team that still might not make it to the NCAA tournament.  But at least now Maryland can make an argument.  That’s how it goes in February as the conference tournaments loom and March Madness beckons.  This is the point in the season when teams often make their most lasting impressions – for better and sometimes for worse.   

Let me close by making this admission – I’m an NBA guy.  I prefer the high quality, skilled basketball that the big boys in the “Association” play.   Still during the final weeks of February and the Madness of March – college basketball always earns my attention.  Unlike the NBA, everything is on the line each and every game.  And just one letdown means its over.  That’s what makes college basketball unique and Frantic February special.