In three brief but uplifting seasons, Todd Bozeman has not only changed the culture of basketball at Morgan State, but he has also altered the itineraries of numerous Baltimore players.
Not long ago, there was an exodus of Baltimore's best high school talent, NCAA qualifiers and nonqualifiers both, for junior colleges, mid-majors and Division I programs across the country. Even those who went to junior college rarely returned to play here.
That's all changing.
Even before Morgan won two straight regular-season titles in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the flow of outbound talent had abated. Now, in the wake of the university's first NCAA tournament bid as a Division I school, the tide has definitely turned.
"I think the energy is there," Walbrook coach Kelvin Bridgers said yesterday. "If a kid wants to stay local and play competitive Division I basketball at a lower level, he can go there. Morgan is on fire."
Morgan's roster includes five players recruited from the city and one from Glen Burnie. The injection of local talent was part of the game plan that Bozeman, Morgan's third-year coach, used to resuscitate a dysfunctional program.
The Bears take a 23-11 record into tomorrow's South Regional opener against Oklahoma in Kansas City, Mo., the most wins since the school jumped to Division I in 1983.
"When Coach got the job, he said he wanted to recruit local kids," assistant coach Kevin McClain said. "He loves Baltimore kids because they're tough, hard-nosed kids who are going to compete with anybody."
One of Bozeman's first moves was to hire McClain (Dunbar), a Baltimore native who kept up with local talent while coaching at Casper (Wyo.) College and Manhattan.
Then Bozeman started planting his recruiting seeds in neighborhood gyms.
"I made sure I went around to all the rec centers and AAU coaches," he said. "It was important to let those guys know I really believe in the talent here and wanted to try to make sure we utilized it."
The first local the Bears signed was junior college point guard Jerrell Green (Southern) in 2006. That helped them get shooting guard Reggie Holmes (St. Frances) the same year.
In 2007, they added another junior college point guard, Jermaine Bolden (Douglass), 6-foot-10 Rodney Stokes (Old Mill) and two high school recruits who were redshirted, 6-8 Kevin Thompson (Walbrook) and 5-9 guard Desmond Thomas (St. Frances).
In 2008, Morgan brought in 6-4 junior college guard Troy Smith, who played on a state championship team with Bolden at Douglass.
Bridgers was especially impressed with Bozeman's recruitment of Thompson, who also played on a state championship team. Thompson had drawn a lot of mid-major attention at Walbrook until he tore a knee ligament his senior year.
While several schools stopped recruiting Thompson, Morgan and Bozeman did not.
"The kid felt these people were really concerned, not just about basketball, but about Kevin becoming healthy and not being rushed onto the court," Bridgers said. "I think they did a great job recruiting this kid."
The fact that Green and Holmes have had success was critical in opening the Baltimore pipeline. Surrounded by Player of the Year Jamar Smith and Defensive Player of the Year Boubacar Coly, Green got the Bears to the MEAC championship game last season.
Holmes led them to the NCAA this season after becoming the school's all-time leader in three-pointers made.
"A lot of Baltimore kids [are] saying, 'Reggie, I'm coming to play with you next year,' " Holmes said. "A lot. At first, no Baltimore kids wanted to come play here."
Bozeman still recruits nationally, though. He has one player from Los Angeles, one from San Francisco and one from Atlanta.
But he's gaining momentum on the recruiting home front.
"Sooner or later, he's going to start [getting] bigger recruits," Bridgers predicted.
MORGAN STATE (23-11) VS. OKLAHOMA (27-5)
approximately 9:40 p.m.
Kansas City, Mo.
TV: Ch. 13
Line: Oklahoma by 16 1/2