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It's A Slam Dunk

Bozeman Responds When Mater Dei Needs Him Most


Cedric Bozeman has needed only the smallest amount of prodding to achieve the greatest results.

When Bozeman was little, his father told the right-handed youngster that he needed to develop some left-handed moves. A few days later at grandma's house, Bozeman excitedly unveiled a "Hey, dad!" left-handed layup.

After a youth league game, Bozeman's father told him he needed to improve his dribbling skills. Less than two weeks later, Bozeman was dribbling between his legs.

It was this precociousness, this ability to listen and respond instinctively, that prepared Bozeman for his magnum opus earlier this season as a Mater Dei junior.

When Monarch big man Jamal Sampson went down for 11 games with the flu late in the regular season, Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight challenged Bozeman.

Before, the 6-foot-5 standout had been charged with distributing the ball as the point guard. Now, he was responsible not only for directing the offense but also for picking up the scoring slack.

Bozeman responded with his finest play of the season as the Monarchs won 10 of 11 in Sampson's absence, then reeled off seven more postseason victories--including one in the Southern Section Division I-A championship game--before losing to Fresno Clovis West in the Southern California regional championship.

"By the end of the year he was phenomenal, virtually unstoppable," Ocean View Coach Jim Harris said of Bozeman, The Times' Orange County Player of the Year. "I was more than impressed."

What was there not to like? Bozeman could slash toward the basket, scoring over taller opponents with the left-handed layup he first developed as a child. He also possessed excellent court vision and could hit the timely three-pointer that often served as a knockout blow.

"He can also defend," pointed out McKnight, who rated Bozeman right up there with the Miles Simons, Kevin Augustines and other greats who have graced the program. "He's the total package. He can flat-out play."

The left-handed layup became Bozeman's go-to move, especially in the clutch. Slender and sleek, Bozeman would glide toward the basket past defenders almost as if they were stuck in slow motion and lay the ball off the backboard and into the basket with hands larger than the 6-10 Sampson's.

Bozeman's breakout game came in the regional semifinal against Westchester, when he scored a career-high 33 points, including nine consecutive as Mater Dei rallied from a five-point deficit for an eventual 72-64 victory.

"He really came out and played his type of game that night," said Rudy Bozeman, Cedric's father. "And I still say he could play a better game than that because I've seen him play better. I've seen him do things that other people haven't seen yet. They still haven't seen the best of him."

Bozeman's meteoric rise was slowed by injuries his first two seasons at Mater Dei. A broken left leg hampered his playing time as a freshman. Last season, as a sophomore, Bozeman underwent surgery for chronic pain in his right shoulder that had been bothering him since the seventh grade. Doctors repaired the ligament damage and told him he would be pain-free from then on. So far, he has been.

"It felt good [this season] to finally show what I was capable of doing," said Bozeman, who received doctor's clearance to resume dunking the ball toward the end of the season.

The quiet and reserved player rarely showed emotion on the court, even after spectacular slam-dunks or his big showing against Westchester. He also possessed a rare sense of modesty for a rising star. When informed he was selected as the top player in Orange County, Bozeman responded, "I play on the best team in the county. We have the best players, so our whole team was player of the year, basically."

For the season, Bozeman tied Sampson as the Monarchs' leading scorer by averaging 13.7 points. Bozeman finished with an almost two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, averaging 6.4 assists. He also shot 51.7% from the field and pulled down 5.4 rebounds per game.

Bozeman surprised everyone when he made a verbal commitment to UCLA in early September. It wasn't the commitment itself but its timing--months before his junior season--that was the real bombshell. Now it seems Bozeman may be having second thoughts.

"My options are still open," he said. "Right now, I'm still committed to UCLA. [But] I just want to see what else is out there, probably take some other looks. I'm going to wait until next season's over [to make a decision]. We'll see."

We'll also see if Bozeman can lead Mater Dei back to the state title game after falling oh-so short in the regional final against Clovis West. After playing City Section powers Crenshaw and Westchester, both of which employed full-court pressure, in the first two rounds of the regional, the Monarchs found themselves running on empty against the Golden Eagles.

"I was pretty tired," said Bozeman, who watched in agony down the stretch as one of his patented layups rolled off the rim. "It was like you couldn't do what you wanted to do. We just couldn't get it done. We'll try again next year."

Cedric Bozeman has his challenge. There's few, if any, who will be able to stand in his way.

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