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Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman is thankful to be back coaching college basketball again. The onetime Cal coach leads his team into today's NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma.

KANSAS CITY

HE CRIED THREE years ago, when the door opened. He'd heard it wouldn't open but never accepted it. Even as the years rolled past, as hope got him nowhere, he kept the faith.

So of course Todd Bozeman cried when, after a decade of exile, nine years locked out of his calling, somebody forgive his sins and let him coach again.

Bozeman cried again last week, when in his third season at Morgan State University he realized he was being invited back to the NCAA Tournament, the promised land of Division I coaches — and the same tournament that was the best and worst thing to happen to a young coach at Cal named Todd Bozeman.

An older, wiser Bozeman brings his Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Bears (23-11) into the Sprint Center for today's first-round matchup with No. 2 seed Oklahoma, which features consensus player of the year Blake Griffin. It's not expected to be close, but that's beside the point.

The point is that Bozeman, given up for dead in the profession, lives and lives well. That he inherited a team that went 4-26 in 2005-06, lifting it to 13-18 in Year 1, 22-11 (and the NIT) in Year 2 and, now, has it in the tournament it has only known a through TV and magazines.

``We're obviously competing and preparing ourselves to play,'' Bozeman said Wednesday. ``But it truly is a great experience. I'm really happy for the guys, happy for the Morgan State community and for Dr. (Earl) Richardson for giving me the opportunity to get back into college basketball as a head coach.''

All it takes is one, a single caring individual with the ambition and vision and courage to welcome the unwelcome. Bozeman was damaged goods when Dr. Richardson took a chance. Somewhere in the background, Don King was shouting: ``Only in America.''

See, the past that dogged Bozeman followed him from Berkeley. For the better part of five years at Cal, Bozeman streaked across the sky, a coach unlike the school had ever known. He was a 29-year-old African-American assistant who fell into the job after head coach Lou Campanelli had one too many temper tantrums and lost the team. Young Todd was a relentless, remorseless recruiter, urgent and defiant, equal parts fire and hustle, seeking fully backed results at microwave speed.

The highs, there were plenty, including three trips to the NCAA Tournament, the most notable of which came in '93, when Jason Kidd led the Bears to an epic upset of Duke. The victory made Bozeman the youngest coach ever to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

The lows were defined by, well, cheating. Bozeman's unchecked ambition led to some catastrophic decisions, the most damaging being the decision to pay Tom Gardner, the father of recruit Jelani Gardner, $30,000.

The NCAA soon came knocking and ended up hijacking Bozeman's career. The money trail ended at Bozeman's feet and he was essentially forced out of the game for eight years — a penalty so spectacularly stiff it was presumed by many as a warning to coaches everywhere.

Moreover, it was perceived by some to be an act of comeuppance, the taming of a brash young coach who had gotten too much, too soon, leaving a trail of bitter and envious veteran coaches. The old school had no use for Bozeman. I wish I could say it was because he was cheating, but with cheating being so common in the sport there had to be more to it than that.

So Bozeman packed up his family and left the Bay Area. Went back to the East coast, where he was raised, reconnecting with his father, Ira, and other family members. Watched his children grow up.

He dabbled in basketball — scouting for the NBA, coaching amateurs, etc.— because he couldn't help it and because it was he could do because for seven years nobody would hire him.

``I never thought that I wouldn't get back in,'' he said. ``I just never did. I always thought I would have a chance to get back in. I wasn't sure when it would happen, how old I would be. Maybe I would be a volunteer coach at 75.''

No, he's a NCAA Tournament coach at 45.

There is no trace of anger, no visible scars on his psyche. All there is of Bozeman is a will that could have bent but didn't, a passion that might have died but now burns as hot as ever.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.