Former basketball teammates Kuntz ’06 and Kain ’05 reunite at Los Angeles FC

For three seasons, Will Kuntz ’06 and Tucker Kain ’05 were teammates on the men’s basketball team at the College. In the years they played together, the Ephs went 77-12 and set a Div. III record of 64 consecutive home victories. They also won the Div. III national championship in 2003 and NESCAC championships in 2003 and 2004.

A decade later, the former teammates will be reuniting on the West Coast at Los Angeles FC (LAFC), a new Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise set to begin playing in 2018. Kain is part of the club’s ownership group, and Kuntz will serve as vice president of soccer operations and assistant general manager.

Kuntz was previously director of player relations for the MLS. Yet he began his career in the front office of the New York Yankees. As a first-year at the College, he wrote a letter to late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ’52 upon learning that Steinbrenner was a Williams alum. With some help from then-President of the College Morton Schapiro, Kuntz got the letter to Steinbrenner.

“That turned into an internship, which turned into two more internships, and [Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman hired me right when I graduated,” Kuntz said.

Will Kuntz ’06 will be LAFC’s vice president of soccer operations. Photo Courtesy of the Career Center.
Will Kuntz ’06 will be LAFC’s vice president of soccer operations. Photo courtesy of the Career Center.

Kuntz became manager of pro scouting, as well as one of Cashman’s closest advisers, and he was with the organization when it won the World Series in 2009. Some New York periodicals called him the “Yankees whiz-kid” before he left for the MLS in 2014.

Kain’s path to the sports world, on the other hand, has not been as direct.

“It’s kind of interesting how we all end up where we do, even if it’s not planned 100 percent of the way,” he said.

After graduating from the College, Kain played a year of basketball in Europe. He then began working at the New York headquarters of Guggenheim Partners, an investment firm.

In 2011, when the Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy, Guggenheim became interested in buying the franchise. Kain helped evaluate the opportunities in the Dodger brand, and in 2012, Guggenheim completed the $2 billion acquisition of the Dodgers, the largest purchase of a professional sports team in history.

“They asked me to move out to L.A. and manage the assets for the Dodgers, and that launched me into the sports world,” Kain said. “And now it’s brought me the opportunity to help bring a new MLS team to Los Angeles [with] LAFC.”

Kain currently serves as chief operating officer of the Dodgers and managing director of Guggenheim Baseball Management. He will continue to work with the Dodgers as he lends a hand to LAFC’s management.

Having grown up around sports — his father, Bob Kain, was CEO of sports management firm IMG — Kain said the transition from finance to sports management was a welcome challenge.

“I saw it as an opportunity to learn, to ask questions, to explore existing practices and to try to think around how these types of businesses operate,” he said.

Kuntz and Kain played during some of the men’s basketball program’s most successful years. The 2003 national championship made Williams the first NESCAC school to win a Div. III national basketball title, and it remains one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in the history of the College. They both fondly remember their time on the team.

“You could feel the brotherhood,” Kuntz said. “We had a group of guys who were really close friends and hyper-competitive athletes. They were guys that I loved playing with and competing with.”

The 2003 title run exemplifies the excellence of that group, which included All-Americans Michael Crotty ’04 and Ben Coffin ’04.

“We just said, ‘We’ve got a really special thing. Let’s compete and let’s make each other better. Let’s become one and accentuate our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses,’” Kuntz said.

“To have success the way we did brought us all even closer,” Kain added.

The players were also able to witness the tradition of men’s basketball at the College.  Kuntz said part of his decision to attend the College was due to the familial nature of the program.

“It was amazing to see the guys who had played years before who had traveled down to Virginia to watch us play,” he said. “They were so happy for us.”

Dodgers COO Tucker Kain ’05 is part of the LAFC ownership group. Photo courtesy of Sports Business Daily.
Dodgers COO Tucker Kain ’05 is part of the LAFC ownership group. Photo courtesy of Sports Business Daily.

Kain, who scored 1040 points during his time at the College, will forever be remembered for his heroics in a 2004 game against Amherst. Sports Information Director Dick Quinn called the game “one of the greatest moments in the history of Chandler Gymnasium.”

“He went all Larry Bird that game,” Quinn said.

With the Ephs down 68-65 and the clock running down, Kain hit a three-pointer from the point to send the game to overtime. He then scored 13 of his 29 points in the extra period, igniting a packed crowd en route to an 84-80 victory.

“He basically became The Human Torch,” Kuntz said, “and the crowd at Chandler was unlike anything you’d ever seen.”

“You can’t really explain how it happened or why it happened,” Kain said. “You prepare yourself to be successful in the biggest of games, and that day I was able to do that. 

“There’s nothing quite like the Williams-Amherst rivalry. We were both really good basketball teams, so each team could have beaten the other on any given day. That [2004 game] was definitely a fun one.”

Kain credits former Ephs Head Coach Dave Paulsen ’87 with cultivating an environment that allowed the team to flourish.

“Coach Paulsen above everything required accountability, which is an important thing for all young people and something I carry with me to this day,” Kain said.“He had high expectations, and he held you accountable. He’s a great teacher, a great mentor and a great coach – someone I was really proud and excited to play for. Over my four years with him, I learned, changed and matured a ton, and I take a lot of the teachings from him and apply them to my day-to-day life.”

Many of their basketball teammates have kept in touch since their playing days, the pair said.

“That’s a testament to the people,” Kain said. “We’ve stayed very close over the years, and we try to find time to see each other as frequently as we can. I’ll always have great relationships with people like Will and people from that team.”

“Last Friday, we were congratulating a teammate who had just had a kid,” Kuntz said, “and we talked about the unfortunate loss to Hamilton. We still care.

“You learn to appreciate the little things you might have taken for granted–the long bus rides, the dreaded double road trip to Bowdoin and Colby and the stupid things you say to each other on those rides. The big moments were the game moments, but the special things were the little things off the court.”

Kuntz and Kain, having both lived in New York for most of their careers, are especially close. After Kain began working with the Dodgers, the two often chatted about baseball. They will now have plenty more to discuss after combining forces at the MLS’ newest franchise.

“Will’s a great friend of mine, somebody I really respect, and I’m excited to do something great together here at LAFC,” Kain said.

“We’re looking to be not only the best team in Major League Soccer, but the best team around,” Kuntz said. “I’d rather have lofty expectations and a lot of accountability than low expectations and low accountability.

“We’re not in this for anything but excellence.”