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.