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ALL-COUNTY BOYS' BASKETBALL TEAM

Court Royalty

Bozeman's Future Looks Bright After Another Stellar Year

March 27, 2001|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cedric Bozeman insists that a few years from now, when the excesses of what is expected to be a dynamite UCLA basketball career have taken hold, he will remain the same humble, approachable guy he's always been.

"I'm going to be the same Cedric Bozeman from a long time ago," the easygoing Mater Dei High guard says. "You can come up to me and say, 'Hello.' I'll never change."

Bozeman may never change. But the Pacific-10 Conference--if not the college basketball world--could be in for a big-time transformation once Bozeman arrives.

Here is a player who can combine Baron Davis' ability to create off the dribble with Tyus Edney's cool demeanor with Earl Watson's leadership--and he hasn't even set foot in Pauley Pavilion on game day.

That's how highly UCLA Coach Steve Lavin thinks of Bozeman. The Mater Dei senior is the first Times' Orange County Player of the Year to win the award in consecutive seasons since Mater Dei guard Miles Simon in 1992-94.

"To get a player who is as skilled and has the understanding of the game that Cedric has is a real coup for UCLA," says Lavin, who expects his prize recruit to carry on the school's legacy of great point guards. "I think in terms of a point guard, he has exceptional poise and composure for somebody his age on the floor.

"He has all the physical talents, but I think it's his understanding of the game and his basketball IQ that separate him from the other point guards in the country."

Bozeman is expected to run the point next season for the Bruins--if he can achieve a test score on the SAT or ACT that meets the NCAA's minimum requirement for eligibility. He has several more opportunities to attain the score he needs.

Before looking too far forward, though, perhaps it is best to look back at what made Bozeman into what Ocean View Coach Jim Harris calls possibly "the most dominant player in Orange County ever."

One must start with that long, sinewy 6-foot-6 frame that allows him to see over defenders and drive to the basket without fear of having his shot swatted away by some sneering 7-footer.

Then consider his ability to pull up and hit the three-point shot. And don't forget his intangibles: maturity, leadership, poise and tenacity.

"It's unusual to have a point guard his size who still has the quickness and ability to break people down off the dribble and create for himself and his team," Lavin says. "He's very unselfish, rarely forces a shot, but also understands that at certain stages of the game, he needs to seize the opportunity, whether it's with a big defensive play or finding an open teammate."

Bozeman's talents made him into a McDonald's All-American and the county's most indispensable player this season, when he averaged a team-high 19.5 points and 5.1 assists to go with 5.7 rebounds. He also shot 55.2% from the field and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than two to one.

His role changed this season from his junior year, when he excelled at the point until getting worn down during the Monarchs' playoff run. This season, Bozeman played mostly off guard, which allowed him to utilize more effectively his offensive skills. The switch was a big reason Mater Dei (33-2) won the Division I state title.

But Bozeman recognizes his position in college will be the point, and that's why he's strengthening his body to achieve greater endurance. He's also honing his free-throw stroke--he made 68.6% of his attempts this season--and his mid-range game.

"You can shoot the three and you can go to the basket," Bozeman says, "but that mid-range game is vital."

Even though Bozeman figures to be critical to the Bruins' retooled lineup next season, he isn't taking a starting position for granted. And that's with Watson, the starting point guard, and his backup, Ryan Bailey, graduating.

"I just want to come in and try to add another piece to the puzzle. Be that other element," Bozeman says. "I'm just going to go in with the same mind frame I did my freshman year in high school. I'm going to have to work for my position and leave it at that."

Perhaps even more than his ubiquitous talent, Bozeman's hard work and humble approach have won the respect of his Mater Dei teammates and will serve him well at UCLA.

"Cedric Bozeman, what can you say?" Monarch guard Wesley Washington asks. "He's a superstar. Everybody knows who he is, everybody wants to talk to him to get to know him. He's a really nice guy too."

Said Lavin: "Cedric is a natural-born leader and has a maturity beyond his years. His nature is ideal for a point guard. You need someone who is calm under pressure."

And someone who is nice enough to stop and chat when he makes it big.

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