BUFFALO, N.Y. - Morgan State looks like the kind of team that is tough to root against.
There are stories of tragedy, hard-luck, grief, and perseverance throughout the roster.
Because it has to start somewhere, it begins with forward Anthony Anderson, who sat out last season for academic reasons and couldn't wait to play this year. But something wasn't right. He was sent to trainers and doctors and specialists before they figured out what was wrong: Leukemia.
''Devastating news,'' Bears guard Reggie Holmes said.
Anderson's been undergoing chemotherapy and is not in Buffalo with the team. They've dedicated everything all season to him.
Then there's Ameer Ali, whose father took his own life earlier this year. Guard Troy Smith's daughter was born blind with a tumor that had to be removed, Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said.
Bozeman's own son was undercut in high school basketball game and landed awkwardly, resulting in six staples and swelling around the brain.
''You have adversity in life,'' Bozeman told his team. ''It's all about how you deal with it. I told the guys it was going to come. I did not have any idea it was going to come in those forms. But it came and the guys persevered.''
So did the coach.
Bozeman, of course, once seemingly had it all as the head coach at Cal in the 1990s before the NCAA penalized him for paying a player. He served eight years on that but couldn't find a job for 10.
''I just believed that I would get back in,'' Bozeman said. ''I kept my mouth shut. I didn't complain. I admitted to my faults. I didn't talk about other schools. I didn't compare myself to other coaches. I did that for a reason because I wanted to be an example for kids down the line.
''You want kids to be able to admit to their faults and you want people to be able to accept the fact that we're not all perfect.''
Bozeman was recently named the Mid-Eastern Conference Coach of the Year.
''I think he's done a great job,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. ''But I think everybody knew he would.''
Stew and Joe
Yes, WVU football coach Bill Stewart is a big Mountaineers basketball fan. He visited a recent practice and was asked by Huggins to speak to the guys, which he did first as a team, then individually.
To Da'Sean Butler, Stewart said: ''Do you have any idea, son, of how proud this state is of you? America. You had the center stage, New York City. And you were The Guy. I said, 'do you know how proud we are of you?' And he said, 'ah Coach, thank you,' and he just hugged me."
His favorite player? Joe Mazzulla.
''I grabbed him and I said, 'when you're done with this silly roundball, come over and play free safety,' '' Stewart said. ''He said, 'I don't even know how to put my pads on.' I said, 'we'll teach you.'
''Look what Joe Mazzulla did. I'm jumping off the couch. It was great.''
Only Game in Town
Huggins was asked if he felt the state had sufficiently wrapped its arms around his team, which is shaping up as one of the best in school history.
''I think they realize that,'' Huggins said, ''and I think they have.''
Huggins pointed to the record-breaking attendance at the WVU Coliseum as proof, as if it was needed.
''The truth of the matter is, they're going to do that anyways,'' Huggins said. ''It's West Virginia's team. The Steelers didn't make the playoffs. That didn't stop people from going to games and supporting the Steelers. We are West Virginia's team. We are West Virginia's franchise. I don't know that there will be anybody in the state other than that little pocket over there by Ashland (Ky.) that's not watching or listening to the game.''
Before last season's tournament, which the Bears made for the first time in school history, Bozeman continually talked about the NCAA Tournament's spoils.
''I spent the first couple of years trying to explain to these guys the beauty of the NCAA Tournament, the excitement, the emotion they would feel. I couldn't do it justice,'' he said. ''I said, 'I'll tell you what, get there and you'll see what I'm talking about.' ''
Against future NBA No. 1 pick Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, the Morgan State players saw 19,000 fans, media rows deep and autograph-seeking fans in the hotel lobby.
''I knew the guys returning would want to drink from that cup again,'' Bozeman said.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com