Flying coach class

The Baltimore Sun

Marquise Kately came east to start over a year ago, trading the University of California and college basketball's big time for Morgan State and college basketball's hinterland.

To Kately, it didn't matter that the Bears haven't had a winning season since 1989, haven't won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference since 1977 and have never played in the NCAA Division I tournament.

"I already know all that," he said, brushing aside Morgan's dismal past. "We're trying to make history now."

As much as anything, Kately came east to play for Todd Bozeman, a former Cal coach who was starting over himself in Baltimore in 2006 after recruiting sanctions kept him out of the NCAA for 10 long years.

That's what brought Jerrell Green back to Baltimore from a community college in Kansas and got Boubacar Coly here after two star-crossed seasons at Xavier. All three players arrived in 2006.

"Most kids pick schools based on the coaches, regardless of what people might think," Bozeman said. "It's about whether the coach can help prepare you for the next level, if you have aspirations to go to the next level."

Bozeman's resume dazzles in that regard. Among the players he sent into the NBA are Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray. Cal's landmark upset of Duke in the 1993 NCAA tournament doesn't look bad, either.

Green, a point guard, understood all that when the former Southern High star returned to Baltimore last year from Seward County (Kan.) Community College.

"[Bozeman] called when he was getting the job, and people told me he had coached Jason Kidd, that he's a good coach," Green said. "No matter what else, he gets players around you. So I thought if I go home, I might have a chance to do special things."

Indeed, the Bears are poised to do special things this season. Bozeman's recruiting record as well as his coaching record at Cal (63-35) have given rise to heightened expectations at Morgan.

In his first season in Baltimore, Bozeman delivered culture shock to the Bears. They responded with a 13-18 record, but finished strong - third place in the MEAC's regular season, reaching the conference tournament semifinals.

"The major thing was changing the culture and the mentality," he said. "I think we did a lot of work toward that. We are light-years ahead of where we were last year."

After sitting out two years because of knee injuries at Xavier, Coly, 6 feet 9, blossomed under Bozeman's tutelage and was a dominant player in the MEAC tournament. Green led the MEAC in assists (4.77 per game) and was second in assist/turnover ratio (1.59).

Kately, who started as a freshman for Cal in the Pacific-10, practiced and watched last season. He has already won over his teammates.

"He's been there. He knows what it's like to win games in the Pac-10," Coly said. "I like his unselfishness."

Bozeman likes Kately's "basketball IQ" and the fact that the 6-5 forward takes the coaching heat when somebody else on the floor makes a mistake.

"He has a great understanding of the game," Bozeman said. "He might be one of the top players in the conference, if not the top player. He has a chance to put an imprint on the program."

Senior Jamar Smith (12.6 points) and sophomore Reggie Holmes (9.1 points) return in the backcourt for the Bears.

Bozeman stayed close to home to bring in two post players and a 5-9 guard. Kevin Thompson (6-8) and Rodney Stokes (6-10), from Walbrook and Old Mill, respectively, will give Morgan an intimidating presence inside. Jermaine "Itchy" Bolden, who played at Douglass High and then South Plains (Texas) Community College, provides backcourt depth.

According to Bozeman, Thompson has a good basketball IQ, too, but a questionable knee. He had surgery in December and is working through that.

"To get a kid like Kevin Thompson was major for us," Bozeman said. "He came from a winning program and was coached in high school; not all players are coached in high school."

The roster additions make the Bears a team to be reckoned with, even if they were picked to finish fourth in a preseason poll.

"We lost a few games by lack of playing hard and trying to pull things out at the end last year," Green said. "The [new players] come in pushing us. We are battle-tested now in practice."

Said Kately: "Coach expects a lot out of us. I respect him for that. I expect a lot out of us, too."

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