When Regie Kohn and Will McDonald take the court for the last time in their up and down careers at USF, their playing time on the court won’t be the only thing left behind.
The relationship formed over four years between a coach and his players will also become a poignant memory.
“It’s hard for players (and) it’s hard for coaches,” USF coach Seth Greenberg said. “For coaches it’s like you’re sending your kids off to college. We’ve been with these kids for four years. We’ve seen them grow, develop, mature, and now you are cutting the umbilical cord. They are on to the real world.”
The coach/player relationship goes beyond what the fans see. It starts when they first meet on a recruiting trip, as early as the player’s sophomore year in high school, three years before they enter college.
“People don’t understand that it’s a tough thing for coaches and players,” Greenberg said. “You start the recruiting process when they are sophomores in high school. You get to know them, their families, and in Reggie’s case, grandparents.
“They’re a part of your life, and you’re a part of their life, and all of a sudden, they’re gone. “
The relationship develops not only on the court, but off the court as well, when a coach and a player are challenged.
McDonald, who scored a total of 75 points during his freshman and sophomore years, developed his relationship while developing himself as a player.
The 6-foot-11 center hit the weights and changed his diet to improve his scoring total to 772 points so far.
“Will came in with very little fanfare. and earned everything he’s received,” Greenberg said. “He changed his body, changed his attitude, changed his work ethic, changed his approach and allowed himself to be coached. He had a plan and stuck to it, and has now become one of the better post players, probably in the country, offensively for sure.”
Before his statistical outburst, Greenberg and McDonald discussed him transferring schools.
The idea was rejected when McDonald’s mother talked him out of it.
“From the beginning he was on me kind of rough, wanting me to work harder,” McDonald said. “I guess he could see ahead, that I could be the player that I can be now. He saw that four years ago. That’s why he was on me so hard. Now, he’s still on me because he knows the player I still could be and not to settle to be the player that I am right now.”
Greenberg and Kohn also had a close relationship that was developed and defined throughout the years.
Kohn had a chance to prove what type of player he was when he first started playing for the Bulls in 1999.
“Reggie Kohn is a guy that wouldn’t allow himself to just get beat out, and took on all challengers and just made us play him,” Greenberg said. “We recruited people his freshman year. We brought in a junior college guard with the expectation that Reggie would be his caddie, and he just beat him out.”
After proving he should play as a freshman, Kohn left little doubt that he was the guy to lead the Bulls.
“When you look back on it, maybe not this year or four or five years from now, you look at his college career, and you will say, ‘Man that guy had a good college career. He’s going to be the all-time leader in assists in the conference, the all time three-point shots made (leader), and he will have started about 119 and 120 games and has a legitimate shot of being a 1,000 point scorer.’
“I’d say he’s had a very productive career.”
Kohn has compiled 609 assists, 969 points and has made 240 three-point field goals.
The 6-foot-1 point guard out of Lake Howell High School has put up those numbers while playing the last two seasons with arthritic ankles and stress fractures in both legs.
“He’s probably a player that showed as much character, and dealt with as much adversity in terms of injury, as any player that has been at any sport here,” Greenberg said. “And yet he never uses it as an excuse. In fact he down -plays it if anything.”
Last season Kohn couldn’t practice with the team and walked around in a cast when he wasn’t playing.
“(What) sticks out in my mind is seeing him in a cast every day last year,” Greenberg said. “That time sitting in the locker room, just me and him. He would shoot, take off the cast, shoot, then sit with me for 10 minutes.”
The relationship was tested earlier this season when the two almost broke up the basketball side of their partnership.
Kohn almost quit the Bulls after a practice during the first two weeks of the season when he felt he couldn’t take the pain anymore.
“Your first thought is you don’t want to go through another year like I faced last year, dealing with pain on a daily basis,” Kohn said. “My first thought was I don’t want to deal with this again. I don’t want to deal with this again. So, you think about walking away.”
The trust in their relationship was tested but survived. The two discussed it and came up with a compromise to keep them together on the basketball court.
“I went in and sat down and talked to Coach,” Kohn said. “I went in there and discussed it with him and discussed what the options were, whether or not playing was the best thing for me or what else we could do, and we decided to limit practice time and take it from there. When I talked with him, it was all positive, and it was whatever I felt was best. He didn’t want me to deal with pain again. He didn’t want me to hurt myself, where later on in life I would suffer from playing now.
As the season and the careers of two seniors end, the relationship between a coach and his players will continue.
“I know I will talk about Reggie Kohn and the difference between injuries and inconvenience. I’ll use him as an example (for future players),” Greenberg said. “With Will it’s an example of you get what you earn. (I will tell future players) if you want to be a greater player, work hard. They are good examples of doing the right thing.”
After Kohn graduates, he plans on becoming a coach on the high school level and will look to Greenberg as an example.
“To tell you the truth, when I go on to coach, I’m going to take a lot from him,” Kohn said. “He’s taught me a lot about the game.”
The two seniors final game will be tonight at 7 p.m., when the USF men’s basketball team (13-12, 6-8 in Conference USA) takes the court against Tulane (14-13, 7-7).