IN AMERICA, where nearly everyone gets a second chance, Todd Bozeman's time arrived on Thursday.

Last seen in the Bay Area a decade ago, when he was fired by Cal amid scandal, Bozeman is a collegiate head coach again, hired by Morgan State, an historically black school in Baltimore.

He was only 29 when he directed Jason Kidd and the Bears to an upset of two-time defending national champion Duke in the 1993 NCAA tournament, becoming the youngest head coach to reach the Sweet 16.

Bozeman was young, hip, brash and cocky. Players loved him. Opposing coaches raised their eyebrows. Old Blues didn't know what to think.

But Bozeman was gone three years later when word surfaced he had paid $30,000 to the parents of guard Jelani Gardner. The NCAA eventually slapped what amounted to an eight-year ban on Bozeman, his exile finally ending last June 1.

The Washington, D.C., native gets his second chance close to home, at a school with little basketball pedigree. Morgan State hasn't won a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in 30 years and rarely has cracked double-digit victories over the past 15 seasons.

The Bears — yes, the Bears — were 4-26 this year, including a 118-51 loss to Washington. Heck, Maine beat them by 36 points.

But for all his energy and charisma, Bozeman carried a label that scared most college administrators, and perhaps only a school as desperate as Morgan State would provide him another shot.

Now 42, Bozeman sounds like a man who understands a third chance may not come.

"The last two words my dad said to me before he passed (on New Year's Day) were 'be patient,'" Bozeman said at the press conference announcing his hiring. "Don't misinterpret me being patient that I'm not hungry. 'Be patient' are the words that I will live by.

"Maybe had I lived by those words before, I wouldn't be in this situation."

Bozeman has ceased apologizing about his past sins and rightfully so. He paid a stiff price. Several years back he said he found God, and peace of mind.

As a result, he indicated Thursday there is no bitterness about doors that were closed to him over the past decade. "The Lord doesn't always come when you want him," Bozeman said, "but he's always on time."

A HELPING HAND: Don't let Rod Benson's mother see this. She still doesn't know the story.

Benson, Cal's graduating senior forward, had a difficult season, hampered at different times by injuries to his heel and knee. But that's only part of his tale.

For more than four months, until the end of the season, Benson allowed a young homeless Berkeley man to sleep in his car, a Nissan Quest minivan.

"I wasn't driving it anyway. I just kind of felt bad for him — he had no place else to go," said Benson, who knew the man as Dominic, and described him as a 20-something ex-Cal student. "I know he was appreciative."

Benson, who hopes to play professional basketball somewhere here or overseas next season, said his nightly car guest was a former employee at the school's RSF rec facility who was let go because he couldn't get a good night's sleep on the streets and was nodding off on the job.

The arrangement was spawned by accident, when Benson offered to pay Dominic to clean out his van, after leaving wet workout clothes in the vehicle before a basketball road trip. From there, Benson allowed Dominic to hold onto the keys, so he could park the four-wheeled apartment at different locations each night.

When Benson's mother visited for the team banquet earlier this month and asked about the car, he told her he was parking it elsewhere. In fact, the van was towed and impounded, and cost Benson $1,000 to retrieve.

"I sold it for $2,000 the next day, so I guess I came out ahead," he said. "I can't afford gas, anyway."

BEARS LAND JUNIOR: High school junior Harper Kemp, the Arizona state player of the year as a sophomore in 2005, has given Cal an early verbal commitment and plans to enroll at Berkeley in the fall of 2007.

The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder has helped Mountain View High of Mesa win back-to-back Arizona Class 5A Division I state titles. The Toros were 61-4 the past two years. 

"Harper played center for us, but he's working hard on his game away from the basket," said Mountain View coach Gary Ernst, who has won six Arizona state titles. "He's very fundamentally sound and a very strong kid. He's not super-athletic, but he can run and he can jump. He's just a very intelligent player."

Kemp averaged 15 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore, then missed eight games and was slow to come back from an early-season foot injury this year, finishing at just under 12 points and seven rebounds per game.

Kemp's commitment can't become binding until the letter-of-intent signing period next November.