Reggie Love, a key member of the Obama entourage, is planning to leave the White House by the end of the year.

Love, 30, is a popular, gregarious figure in the White House with a unique relationship with the president. A onetime forward for the Duke Blue Devils’ basketball team, Love started out as a staff assistant in Obama’s Senate office after college, rising to become his personal assistant, known as the “body man.”

Love’s exit comes at a time of transition for the administration: Several longtime advisers have left over the past year, in keeping with the time-honored tradition that close aides do not abandon the president immediately before an election. But Love’s position may be among the most difficult for Obama to fill.

Obama has described Love as “the person who keeps me on schedule.” But like many young loyalists on the Obama staff, Love has evolved into a much more important role over time, acting as a gatekeeper and a liaison — and basketball buddy. Obama once described him as a “little brother.” Among the most recognizable members of the Obama team in public – he is a towering 6-foot-4 — Love is also a constant presence in the West Wing. Always at the president’s side during every trip away from home, Love is in the background of countless official White House photographs, even if he rarely speaks in a public setting. The exception is the occasional basketball-related interview on ESPN.

“Over the years, Reggie has been a friend, a teammate and an indispensable member of my staff,” Obama said in a statement. “From my Senate office to the White House, his ability to juggle so many responsibilities with so little sleep has been an inspiration to watch. He is the master of what he does. And even though I will miss seeing Reggie every day, I want to thank him for his service and wish him all the best as he begins a new chapter in his career.”

Love has been attending the Wharton School’s Executive MBA program and will be focusing full time on school, a White House official said.