Reggie Witherspoon has only been on the University at Buffalo campus a handful of times since the school fired him in 2013. He lives close, just eight minutes away, and used to drive his daughters occasionally when they were students there.
Saturday afternoon his visit will hit a bit closer to home, as the 56-year-old head coach will do his craft in the building he spent countless hours in over 14 years. For the first time since taking over the Canisius program, Witherspoon will be back in Alumni Arena.
He said he doesn't want the opponent or the location to be a distraction when his Golden Griffins face UB in both teams' season opener.
"I don't know what to expect from the building, but my genuine focus has been to get our guys ready to play the first game," Witherspoon said. "I haven't really had a chance to think about first time back and all that. There's enough family members around to talk about that."
Witherspoon was UB's bench boss from 1999 to 2013, but was let go after an eighth place finish in the MAC and an eighth straight season without an NCAA or NIT bid. He compiled a 198-228 record and is tied for the second most wins in program history.
"I've tried to be nice to him and reach out and be friendly, but there's definitely some bad feelings," UB coach Nate Oats said. "That's understandable. He was here a long time. He's a Buffalo guy. They weren't bad, they had just never gotten over the hump."
Oats said Witherspoon's addition to Canisius and UB's annual battle adds to the rivalry, something he noticed in last year's meeting between the schools. Canisius defeated the Bulls 94-87 in overtime at KeyBank Center.
"Heck, it was probably their biggest win last year," Oats said. "He downplayed it, but we all know it meant a little bit more than other ones."
Witherspoon and Canisius, picked ninth in the MAAC preseason poll, are heavy underdogs against the MAC East favorites. That didn't stop the Golden Griffins last year. Jermaine Crumpton, Canisius's top returning scorer, put the Golden Griffins on his back in the Dec. 17 meeting with the Bulls. He shot 9 for 18 from the field and 5 for 10 from three-point range for a game-leading 31 points.
"Crumpton destroyed us last year," Oats said.
The Griffs' senior leader is also barely recognizable after losing 25-30 pounds in the offseason. He said he feels lighter and quicker on his feet, and Witherspoon has noticed.
"It's been a great accomplishment on his part to change the way he eats," Witherspoon said. "He's gotten stronger with losing the weight. ... It's allowed him to display the things he's good at."
Replicating last year's performance would go a long way for a Canisius team fighting through the loss of three of its top four scorers from last season.
"I'm going to go out and be aggressive," Crumpton said.
Canisius holds a 27-19 lead in the all-time series, but the Bulls have won two of the last three meetings. UB hasn't gotten a response from the NCAA on a requested waiver for eventual starting point guard Wes Clark, a Missouri transfer. Davonta Jordan will start in his place if Clark has to sit out the first semester due to NCAA transfer regulations.