When LSU forward Regis Koundjia left the Tigers basketball team last December, coach John Brady said in a press release Koundjia left because he was not getting the playing time he wanted. In a phone interview with the Daily Reveille this month, Koundjia confirmed that Brady indeed did not give him the playing time he promised.
“Here’s a guy who knows he can play, but he’s not gotten enough minutes,” said freshman forward Glen Davis. “You try to tell him to be humble because he’s just a sophomore, but it’s a different situation.”
Despite bitter feelings toward Brady, Koundjia said he keeps in touch with his former teammates — he just could not play for Brady.
“I’ve got no problem with them, or [assistant coach Butch] Pierre,” Koundjia said. “The problem is coach Brady.”
Koundjia said he was upset with Brady for about a year, and playing time was the cause.
Koundjia is in the process of transferring to George Washington University.
In LSU’s first games against Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette and the University of New Orleans, Koundjia played 19, 16 and 10 minutes, respectively. Koundjia, who said he never knew why his playing time plummeted, played three minutes against West Virginia and was too upset to dress for Northwestern State.
“We’re trying to play the best players we can to win that particular game,” Brady said. “It’s based on that particular team, based on matchups. It’s just a coaching decision we make as the game goes on.”
Brady first said Koundjia sat out for personal reasons but later told reporters it was related to playing time.
Koundjia, who threatened to leave shortly afterward, was convinced to come back and played 17 minutes against McNeese State but still was unhappy with his role.
In a closed-door meeting with teammates Tack Minor, Brandon Bass and Glen Davis, Koundjia said Brady promised he would play about 25 minutes against Southern Miss. In the Tigers’ 88-84 overtime loss to the Golden Eagles, Koundjia played nine minutes and took one shot.
After the game, Koundjia packed his belongings and went to the team bus, where he said he slouched on a bench seat with his head down. Koundjia said Brady tried to convince him to stay.
“Brady said ‘Please stay, that’s my fault,’” Koundjia said. “When I got home I packed my stuff.”
Brady would not elaborate on what exactly he said in the meeting before the game, but Brady did say Koundjia must have misinterpreted what he meant.
“I think there’s a difference in what was agreed upon,” Brady said. “[Playing more is] something he would like to have done. A team plays in a zone for a majority of the game, you make a decision to win the game. If a player doesn’t agree, or if somebody else tells him something else, then that’s his decision to leave. I’m playing players at the positions that will help us win the game.”
Koundjia, who was a high school Parade all-American, never seemed to find a role on the team. In his six games in 2004 with the Tigers, Koundjia averaged 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds. Last season he averaged 3.6 points and 3.9 rebounds.
Forward Ross Neltner said he could not point to exactly why his good friend and former teammate never fully adjusted to the college level.
“When he first got here his shooting confidence wasn’t as high as I think it was in [high school],” Neltner said. “He used to shoot a lot after practice to try to get his shot down, and maybe somewhere in that process he lost something in his shot. I don’t know why Regis was any different from anybody else. Regis is a shy guy. He’s pretty quiet. But I don’t know why it was harder for him to adjust than anyone else.”
LSU went 5-2 with Koundjia this season and is 6-4 since he left. Although he never lit up the box scores, teammates say losing Koundjia affected the team’s play.
“He gave us another body, another guard,” Davis said. “He was a great defensive player, and that’s where we’re lacking. We’re lacking defense and that’s a big loss for us. And I figured he should have never left. I think he should have stayed. It kind of affected us a little bit, certain situations we would have Regis play. And just energy, he had a lot of energy.”
Koundjia is the sixth player to leave the team in three seasons. Tony Gipson, Mildon Ambres and Tim Bush left early last season for more playing time.
At halftime of his fourth game with the Tigers in December 2002, Shawnson Johnson packed his belongings and walked away before the second half began.
Center Jaime Lloreda walked away in the thick of last season’s Southeastern Conference schedule with an ankle that doctors said was good enough to last the rest of the season.
“I’ve talked about those guys, Jaime is different,” Brady said. “I wish them well and hope they finish their education.”
Brady pointed to the frequency of players leaving other schools. He used Florida — which lost three players in two years — as an example.
“I like Regis, and I wish him well,” Brady said. “His time here was good. He chose to leave, and that’s his reason. I like him a lot, and I always have.”
Milton Ambres, Ambres’ father and a high school coach of 26 years, said his son gave him no implication that he was unhappy with Brady when he left the team. Ambres said his son left the Tigers because he wanted to be a guard, and Brady would only play him at forward. Milton’s son transferred to Baylor — where he plays guard.
“My thing is, [Brady’s] the coach,” Ambres said. “Kids these days need to learn that. You have to be coached. I coached 26 years in high school. I know some of the things I did to push kids.”
Ambres suggested a series of events could have spiraled into results that had nothing to do with Brady.
“If you look at it, it looks so bad for John because so many people are leaving,” Ambres said. “It can be a domino theory, where one kid leaves, another kid leaves, then another leaves, and none of it could be his fault. I’m hoping things work out. Any coach wants to win. Sometimes not winning breeds problems. It doesn’t mean you’re not getting the right combination of this together or the right combination of that together. I’ve been coaching for 26 years, and I know I’ve been through holy hell sometimes. It doesn’t take but a few little things to make you a loser.”