1957 Dale graduate became NBA coach, scoutMay 6, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
He grew up with six brothers and six sisters as his father worked three jobs trying to support the household by driving a school bus, working at a meat market, and buying and selling cattle. The family never had a problem getting food — raising their own cows, pigs and chickens, though they didn’t have a lot to get by.
Bob Reinhart remembers playing baseball, basketball and football year-round as he was growing up. His brothers played sports, and he began playing basketball in first grade, tagging along with his siblings.
“We had a lot of love and a lot of caring,” Reinhart said. “My parents (Elmer and Della) were great, great people; good Christian people.”
Reinhart had a lot of fond basketball memories growing up, one of them was watching Indiana University win the 1953 national championship when he was in eighth grade. Two of his other brothers, Earl and Ray, made the all-sectional and all-regional teams when they were in high school, and he had the same honors when he starred at Dale.
Dale had not won a sectional championship since 1949 prior to him entering his junior year in 1955-56. Reinhart insists the Golden Aces had a good team his sophomore year, too, but knew how tough it was to win a sectional championship. He thought Dale had a good coach in Jerry Kemp, but the Aces had a new coach in Roy Yenowine come junior year.
Reinhart could shoot it a bit, but the Aces had another junior, Roger Kaiser, who starred in a big way at Dale. Kaiser set a North Spencer scoring record that stood until Heritage Hills’ Murray Becher broke it in 2020, and Kaiser went on to play at Georgia Tech University after a legendary career at Dale.
“What made Roger so good was he was a perfectionist,” Reinhart said. “I mean, he would get there an hour before practice started and stay an hour after it got over.”
Reinhart described Kaiser as a “practice fanatic” who was automatic at the free throw line. He sees Kaiser as his seventh brother, and the two remain close to this day. Reinhart told of Roger’s dad, also named Elmer, building a full court at the Kaiser residence. The teammates would play there every Saturday and Sunday.
He saw himself mostly as a playmaker, but there’d be times that it was Reinhart, and not Kaiser, who would lead the team in scoring. One of those instances came in the 1956 Tell City sectional championship, when the Aces broke through for a 58-49 win against Cannelton. Kaiser scored 17 points. Reinhart had 21. He doesn’t remember too much about the game, except that he had a good shooting night, and that Cannelton had a good team, as was commonplace in Southern Indiana back then.
The Aces met Princeton in the regional championship. Reinhart scored a game-high 20 points, but the Aces fell just shy, 58-56. Kaiser got hurt in the game. There wasn’t a way Reinhart could prove it, but “without question” to him, Dale wins that game if Kaiser doesn’t get hurt.
Reinhart had his third coach in three years when Billy Livengood replaced Yenowine for the 1956-57 season, but not much changed. Reinhart thought both were players’ coaches. The Aces found themselves locked in a tight affair against a Tell City team they had never defeated before in the sectional championship.
The game went to triple overtime, and Reinhart was the one responsible for delivering the championship-winning bucket, securing Dale’s second sectional title in a row.
“It was a jump ball,” Reinhart said. “They got the tip and the guy had his back to me, and I slapped it away from him and laid it in. I’ll never forget that.”
The Aces lost again in the regional title game, this time to Evansville Lincoln, 63-57. A 36-24 lead in the second quarter slipped from Dale’s hands, and that was it for the prep careers of Reinhart and Kaiser.
Reinhart continued his basketball career after high school. He first attended Kentucky Wesleyan College, but didn’t like that the players on the team were the one’s running the show. Reinhart told his wife, Jane, he wasn’t staying there, and decided to transfer to IU. Marrying Jane and going to Bloomington were two of the best things that ever happened to him.
He played both baseball and basketball for the Hoosiers. It was at IU that he found coaching to be his calling from his IU basketball coach, Branch McCracken. Reinhart didn’t get a lot of playing time, scoring 15 points in nine career games during a span of two seasons at IU, but that didn’t change the high regard he held for McCracken
“I would’ve run through a brick wall for Branch McCracken,” he said.
Reinhart told of McCracken calling him into his office one day, recommending that he get into coaching. McCracken told him, though, that coaching was unlike other subjects. To be a coach required knowledge, enthusiasm and hard work.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer placed a call to Oakland City High School, and the rest was history. At 23 years old, Reinhart was the youngest head coach in the state, a job he wouldn’t have gotten without McCracken.
Reinhart spent three years coaching at Oakland City before he received an offer. It was from Kaiser, who was the head coach at Decatur (Ga.) High School. His former teammate wanted Reinhart as his assistant, and he packed his bags and headed south.
There was a mutual trust between them. Kaiser endorsed bringing Reinhart aboard because of Reinhart’s experience at Oakland City, and he picked up things from Kaiser while serving as his assistant.
“The one thing I learned is that coaches talk defense, but play offense,” Reinhart said. “You don’t win championships with defense. I don’t care if you hold a team to 50, you’ve got to get 51, and Roger’s philosophy basically was that offense wins games. You’ve got to be able to shoot it. I don’t know of any college basketball coach that gives the defensive scholarship. If you’ve got a team with five guys that can shoot it and one with four, the one with five has an advantage.”
Reinhart ascended to the head coaching job in the 1969-70 season. The man who now cannot remember going to the grocery can remember 50 years ago. Decatur finished 25-1 that year. The season culminated in the Class 3A state championship, the first of three with Reinhart steering the program. It’s that first one, though, that he cherishes the most, due to the unlikelihood of winning it all in Year One despite being seen as an underdog to other teams. The Bulldogs also won state championships in 1980 and 1982, and attributed his success to the players he had.
“I’ve known coaches who coached all their life who think it’s them,” he said. “I never did think it was me.”
The Bulldogs went on a 57-game winning streak between 1981 and 1983. They won many of those games by large margins, and they saw tough competition, too, but Reinhart had more days behind him as Decatur’s coach than days ahead of him.
Reinhart formed a relationship with Mike Fratello, who spent many years as an NBA head coach. Reinhart was the director of a camp Fratello ran, Atlanta Pro Basketball Camp. When the latter became the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, he brought Reinhart onto his staff for the 1983-84 season.
Becoming an assistant in the NBA was hardly a surprise for Reinhart, though.
“Not only were we coaching together at camp, but we became good friends socially,” Reinhart said. “He knew my background at Decatur. He knew I could coach.”
Reinhart coached a franchise with a lot of accomplished players. Kevin Willis was an All-Star who scored more than 17,000 points and played for more than 20 years in the NBA. Randy Wittman was a fellow Hoosier and a Ben Davis graduate who later became an NBA head coach. Doc Rivers won a championship as the head coach of the Boston Celtics in 2008, and, of course, the Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins, who marveled with his flashy dunks and became a Hall of Famer.
“Dominique Wilkins, people never understood that he was the hardest working Hawk there was,” Reinhart said. “He was like get there early, stay late, but he was fun to work with, and a great, great player.”
He didn’t have a lot of coaching responsibilities, and was more of an advance scout. He spent two seasons as a coach for the Hawks, who made the playoffs in 1984. They were the No. 7 seed against the No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round. The first round went to a Best-of-Five back then, and the Hawks pushed it to a decisive fifth game, but faltered in Milwaukee, 118-89. Seven Bucks scored double figures in that game, including a team-high 20 points from future Hall of Famer Sidney Moncrief.
Reinhart was reluctant to leave, and his wife thought he was crazy to do so, but he became the head coach for Georgia State University, where he’d spend the next nine seasons doing so. He took the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament, the first time they’d ever been there, in 1990-91. Reinhart went 107-148 in his nine years there. He had two winning seasons with a program that went 2-26 the year before he arrived.
“They had never put any emphasis on basketball, and at that time, the emphasis wasn’t near as good as it is today. But we had an athletic director (Rankin Cooter) who was interested in basketball,” he said. “We got some pretty good kids, not as great as Kansas or Duke, but we had some pretty good players.”
He knew he wouldn’t get any Blue Chip prospects. So, he looked for players who loved the game, worked hard, could shoot the basketball, was a good student and had a will to win. Reinhart emphasized character, and not just talent, when recruiting.
Reinhart later became a scout for many different NBA organizations — the Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and back to the Heat. He has two championships rings, which he received as a scout for the Heat in 2012 and 2013. Reinhart gave his 2012 ring to his son, Bobby Jr., but wears his 2013 ring as much as he can with pride.
“I didn’t have the 2013 [ring] when I gave it to him,” Bob said with a laugh.
He was a scout with the Jazz when they lost to the Chicago Bulls in 1998 in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. Bob has been watching “The Last Dance,” a documentary largely about the dynasty the Bulls had in the 1990s that ended following one last championship in 1997-98.
Reinhart reminisced about Michael Jordan’s last shot as a Bull, as he touched the man who was guarding him, Bryon Russell, before taking, and making, what turned out to be the winning shot for the Bulls’ sixth title.
“Michael drove to the lane and pushed him six feet, and made the basket and they didn’t call it,” he said. “I’ll never forget that because Utah got screwed.”
He believes Utah would’ve won a hypothetical Game 7 that year, but “we’ll never know.”
Reinhart’s scouting days are behind him. He retired two years ago. Jane has been away from home for the past three years, suffering brain damage from a fall. She was his biggest supporter and had knowledge of the game.
“I remember one time, they did a story on me in the Atlanta Journal (Constitution), and they interviewed Jane and they said, ‘Do you have the same type of emotions as your husband?’ because I was pretty rowdy,” Reinhart said. “She said, ‘Yeah, but I just don’t get as many technical fouls.’”
He lives in Atlanta, and spends much of his time playing golf now. Reinhart visits Jane, and loves going to the horse track. He told of the two of them going to the Kentucky Derby 37 years in a row, including the Triple Crown-winning years of Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.
Reinhart also remains close friends with Hall of Famer Richie Guerin, who played for the New York Knicks and also the Hawks. Guerin served as player-coach of the Hawks in their St. Louis days, and was the first coach of the team when it moved to Atlanta. Their wives were dear friends, and they still remain close. The two families often vacationed together. Reinhart still regularly talks to Guerin, even though the latter now resides in West Palm Beach, Fla.
He hailed the legendary player as having a great knowledge of the game.
“We owned a condominium on the fifth floor, and he owned one on the fourth floor,” he said of Guerin.
Reinhart was enshrined in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017. He told the crowd he was thankful to be a Hoosier instead of a Kentuckian, to the applause of many. Reinhart talked about his time in high school, college and the NBA, and was grateful to all three.
Things have also been tough for him recently, though. He hasn’t seen Jane in seven weeks due to the COVID-19 restrictions put in place. Georgia has eased some restrictions, but Reinhart remains concerned about the virus.
“This thing could rebound worse than what it is,” he said. “I hope to God it doesn’t happen, but I hope they’re not opening too soon, because it’s a different world.”
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