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Monday, June 17, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Life After the Buzzer

Reggie Witherspoon has become one of UB's most prolific figures in his 12 years as the head coach of the men's basketball team. He has taken the Bulls to new heights since his arrival and only added to the success of the rising UB athletics program.

However, his influence extends far beyond the walls of Alumni Arena.

Witherspoon and his coaching staff have maintained a strong relationship with the basketball program's alumni throughout the years. They provide both advice and support for former Bulls, regardless of how far away from Buffalo they end up.

Witherspoon treats his current and former players as if they were his own children. He appreciates the constant communication he has with his alumni.

"I think they feel a real sense of family," Witherspoon said. "It's great because it means they enjoyed their time here and there's trust and loyalty. It's probably one of the most rewarding aspects of my job."

Some of Witherspoon's alumni had the opportunity to play professional basketball overseas, while others found success in the job market. He works with the university to ensure that his graduates have the maximum amount of career opportunities available.

"If they're in a position to continue and play professionally overseas, I tell them to do that as long as they can, to learn about the rest of the world," Witherspoon said. "If they enter the job world minus basketball, we make calls for some of them to help them land jobs."

Witherspoon has had 11 of his players play overseas, with a few of those players going on to receive critical acclaim.

Mark Bortz went on to play professional basketball in Latin America and Turkey after he graduated from UB in 2005. He recently became the first foreign player to win championships with two different teams in the Liga Uruguaya Basketball league in Uruguay. Bortz also holds the distinction of being the first foreign-born Caucasian to win a championship in the league.

After graduating in 2002, Louis Campbell played professionally in Japan and Germany, where he is currently considered one of the country's premier guards. Yassin Idbihi, a 2007 alumnus, currently plays for ALBA Berlin, one of the elite teams in Germany.

Witherspoon still keeps a close bond with the players, even if they are overseas.

"We talk on the phone and through emails if they're out of the country," Witherspoon said. "They come back and even go to games when they are in town… on occasions they even stay at my house."

Assistant coach Turner Battle, a UB athletics Hall of Famer, has remained close with Witherspoon after he left UB in 2005. Battle cites Witherspoon as one of the main reasons for his continued involvement with the UB community.

"[Witherspoon] is one of the reasons why I came here," Battle said. "He cared about me more as a person than a basketball player. He's one of those guys who you could call at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, and if you got a problem he's willing to talk about it."

Battle played for the prestigious BC Kalev basketball club in Estonia. Within one year, the team deemed Battle's performance in the league unsatisfactory and replaced him on short notice.

Battle's experiences displayed some of the downsides of playing in a foreign land.

"I hate to say it, but you have to play pretty much for yourself," Battle said. "That was a big transition for me coming from the family environment here. I learned that I came from a university where I put trust in a lot of people. I tried to put the people of Europe in the same trust and it didn't work out that way."

After unfruitful appearances in France and Sweden, Battle returned to the States to play locally for the Buffalo Rapids in the summer of 2006. However, an arm injury forced Battle to focus on his desire to start a coaching career.

Battle began to coach at Sweet Home High School and led the Panthers to a sectional title. Soon after, he received an offer from Witherspoon to be a part of his coaching staff. It was a chance he couldn't pass up.

"Things happened kind of fast as far as my professional career went," Battle said. "I thought I would be playing professionally for a while then get back into coaching, but things didn't work out that way. [Witherspoon's offer] was a good situation for me and it was hard to pass up."

Battle was officially named assistant coach in 2007. His advice is often highly regarded because his age makes him more relatable to the current athletes.

Alumni with off-the-court careers have a reasonable impact on the team as well. Jason Bird, a financial advisor at UB and a former teammate of Battle's, is always willing to lend a helping hand for the team.

"I advise [current players] all the time," Bird said. "Being around the team is good… because [the team] has people who have been in the same shoes before to help them through things they may be going through."

Bird saw more long-term benefits in the job market, despite being recruited to play professional ball after his college career. He said that both Witherspoon and the family aspect of the basketball program made the transition from collegiate basketball to a career easier.

"The coaching staff was encouraging and I knew they would've loved to have me around," Bird said. "They've been very supportive, and I know they're here for [the players]."

Witherspoon and the coaching staff have also been very enthusiastic about Byron Mulkey's post-college opportunities. Mulkey's noteworthy season garnered the attention of European sports agencies, and a career overseas may very well be in the cards for him.

Mulkey is also pursuing a Master's in Higher Education and Administration. He stated that he has a passion to go into athletic administration on a collegiate level and a Master's will give him something to fall back on if professional basketball doesn't work out.

With one more semester left, Mulkey doesn't feel too pressured to make a decision on his post-collegiate career.

"Right now I'm just seeing opportunities present themselves," Mulkey said. "If I can keep playing, that's exactly what I want to do."

The coaching staff will be sure to back Mulkey 100 percent in whatever he does as long as he, as with any of the program's athletes, continues to grow.

"What you want to do [as a coach] is help your young men become grown men and help them learn what it takes to be successful," Witherspoon said. "We want to help them develop and that's why we do what we do."

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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