All in the family
After transferring two years ago, Regan looks to find his place as a Bull
Will Regan, a sophomore forward on the men's basketball team, is eligible to play this season in his hometown after sitting out last year. He grew as a player because of his household. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
Tie game in an intense basketball battle in the backyard of the Regan household. Next point wins.
Will took a shot and missed, but he chased down the rebound and - as his leaping body was falling out of bounds - he instinctively chucked the ball over his head, back onto the court.
Swish. That was one of the only one-on-one games the Regan brothers have ever finished.
"We've [almost] never finished a game of one on one," said Jim Regan, a senior forward at Daemen College and the brother of Will, a sophomore forward on UB's men's basketball team. "Pretty much in the middle of every game, something will go wrong. We'll throw the ball at each other and we'll get in a fight. Or he'll just get really lucky."
Jim has three siblings, all with impressive accolades. One sister, Kelly, is an all-conference basketball player at Manhattan College. The other, Emily, is an All-American rower at Michigan State.
And then there's Will. He helped local Nichols School earn a state championship his senior year. He was a Buffalo News player of the year twice and a McDonald's All-America nominee.
Now he is finally getting a chance to play at home again. Will transferred from the University of Virginia - where he didn't get much playing time - after his freshman season and sat out last year because of NCAA transfer rules.
Will is the product of spirited battles, which are the norm in the Regan household.
"Everything in our house is a competition," said Barbara Regan, Will's mother. "Who can eat the most? Who can be the loudest or the quietest? Or the most helpful or least helpful? There is nothing that they do that isn't a competition."
What else would you expect in a household that produced four college athletes?
Basketball was the sport of the house when Will was growing up. All of his older siblings were playing it at the time, but Will sought a different path. He told his father - Lawrence, who played college basketball at St. Lawrence University - he didn't want to play.
He played basketball recreationally but wanted to pursue a different sport. He played everything from hockey to swimming. By the time he was in seventh grade, however, he realized basketball was the sport he could truly succeed in.
But his father realized his potential years earlier.
"Probably when he was in second grade, he had a feel for the game," Lawrence said. "I was coaching his older brother's team of fourth graders and he played and he just had a better sense and better feel for things than any of the fourth graders."
Will and Jim see their dad as a coach figure.
During a weekly trip from Buffalo to Albany when Will was in seventh grade, Lawrence observed as his son stood at the free-throw line: three seconds left, down by one, two shots. Will was playing on an eighth-grade AAU basketball team.
With the pressure on, Will clanked both free throws off the rim and his team lost.
"He was devastated; he had tears in his eyes after the game," Lawrence said. "I said to him: 'That's why you're playing, to try and get better. You learn from the experience and the next time you get the opportunity, you want to come through.'"
It was a moment that always stuck with Will.
"You never want to let your team down, so once it happens you realize the magnitude of the situation that you can be in," Will said. "Experiencing the other side of it [losing], I was able to learn from my mistakes."
Lawrence said Will clinched games from the free-throw line about four or five times throughout his high school career.
After leading Nichols to the state title in 2010, Will was recruited by some of the top schools across the country, including Maryland, Arizona State, Stanford and Providence, but he eventually decided to take his talents to Virginia.
It was a move that made sense at the time. He wanted a change of pace.
"It's really good school academically," Will said. "I like the coaching staff and I trusted what they were doing. And it's the [Atlantic Coast Conference] so it was just things that were hard to turn down. I grew up two miles from here so I didn't really want to stay that close to home at the time."
Things didn't work out as planned. Socially, Will wasn't that close with some of his teammates, and his best friend on the team transferred midway through the year.
Life on the court wasn't going smoothly either. Will spent most of his freshman year on the bench and averaged about six minutes per game. As the year progressed, Will once again wanted a change of pace. Based on NCAA rules, he only had a short time to decide where to transfer.
He needed a familiar situation. Will has known Bulls head coach Reggie Witherspoon most of his life. It was the reason he eventually chose the school.
"I've known 'Spoon my whole life pretty much - not to the level of my coach now, but I went to his camps, he's known of me," Will said. "My dad went to high school with his brother so he's known of my family his whole life."
As a transfer last season, he was able to practice with the team, but he couldn't play in games. It was a tough situation: to battle with teammates but not get the reward of playing time. But Will learned from that experience.
"Being able to compete against [last year's big men] coming in was good for me, going up against good competition day in and day out," Will said. "Even though I wasn't playing, I was able to practice hard with the post players."
In the past year, Will has gotten plenty of time to become acclimated with a group of players who are very close on and off the court. Even though he was "the new guy," the team embraced Will.
"Without a doubt, not just the team now, but former players, this whole thing that coach 'Spoon has set up here is sort of just a big family nowadays," Will said.
He is looking to complement junior forward Javon McCrea - who won MAC Freshman of the Year two seasons ago and first team all-MAC honors as a sophomore - this year.
"[McCrea] is going to attract special defenses sometimes because he is so strong and so big," Will said. "I want to be able to complement that with my jump shot and my ability to spread the defense out."
Asked if he will be seen beyond the arc this season, he replied without hesitation: "Oh yeah."
Although Will brings a new dynamic to a team that lost four seniors after last year, it's not going to be an easy road; he'll be replacing none other than MAC Player of the Year Mitchell Watt, who is currently playing in Israel.
"There's certain things you just can't replace," Will said. "His ability to block shots, we're two different players. It's not just what we're going to be missing, but we have four other really good post players who have developed through his experience. We're going to grow this year from what we have learned from him. And, overall, I think we will fill in fine."
The Bulls have a lot of talent left on the team, but most pre-season polls had them finishing either fourth or fifth in the MAC East - a prediction most of the players on the team felt was disrespectful, according to Will.
"I think last year we were picked fourth or fifth," Will said. "And it shows you a couple things: how competitive the MAC East is and that the polls don't mean s**t. For example, some people picked the Bills to make the playoffs this year. It's not what you do at the beginning of the season. It's what you do at the end."
Regan begins a new chapter of his life as he steps foot on the court in his hometown for the first time since 2010 on Saturday. His family will be watching.
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