When Chris Holtmann took over as Ohio State men’s basketball coach, Alonzo Gaffney had questions, just like everyone else.

And when the five-star forward from the Cleveland suburb of Garfield Heights received some quick answers, it helped pave the way for a potentially regime-defining commitment from the top-rated Ohioan in his class.

“When they got the job, I felt like I was the first call that they made,” Gaffney said last week, shortly after announcing his verbal commitment to join OSU’s 2019 recruiting class. “That was very important to me, being an Ohio guy, having them want me there.”

That early phone call helped build a solid relationship that ultimately led to a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes before the end of July, less than two months after Holtmann accepted the job.

It also stood in contrast to a perception that has dogged Ohio State in recent seasons — that it was too slow to offer scholarships to instate talent, ultimately costing the Buckeyes chances to sign such players.

Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson said the different approach shown by Holtmann’s staff is an important step toward making sure the state’s top players don’t go elsewhere to play basketball.

“What I love about this coaching staff is they’re not waiting to pull the trigger,” Johnson said. “They’re seeing young talent and they’re getting on them early. That’s the key. These guys have to feel Ohio State. Mostly every kid (here) grows up thinking about Ohio State. Why now show these kids that love early, and then when it comes down to it you’ll be able to choose which one you want at the right time?”

Gaffney isn’t the only player Holtmann and his staff showed some early love. The Buckeyes have already offered a scholarship to the coach’s nephew, Meechie Johnson, a Garfield Heights point guard in the class of 2021 who just finished his freshman season.

That offer was handed out in November, and Holtmann has said he’s not necessarily concerned about class or age when it comes time to offer a scholarship.

On Tuesday, just hours after news of Gaffney’s recruitment broke, Holtmann made the point that Ohio State isn’t making it an ironclad policy to offer scholarships to top Ohioans at an early age. Although he said he constantly gets told to offer various players early, he defended Thad Matta’s recruiting record and downplayed the notion that the Buckeyes had a perception of not being aggressive enough within the state.

The way Holtmann sees it, there’s a process involved.

“The biggest criteria for us when it comes to offering or not offering or when we offer is (whether there is) mutual interest, and do we feel like he’s a potential Buckeye?” Holtmann said. “I don’t know that it’s going to be for everybody, but the ones that we offer and pursue, we feel strongly that they’re Buckeyes and they fit us.

“We try to be pretty thorough in our vetting process and if we feel like (making) an early offer, we’ll do that. If we don’t feel like we’ve known him well enough, we’re not going to race to be the first school to offer him.”

Sometimes, though, it just works out that way. Or, in Gaffney’s case, the message is sent early enough that an important relationship can be developed.

“You don’t want to have college coaches coming in your backyard recruiting and offering your young kids early and then when you try to come in it’s like, where were you at the beginning?” Sonny Johnson said. “This is very important: They’re not waiting to jump on these kids and let them know that Ohio State was there first.”