As Ohio State looked to its past for Friday’s game at St. John Arena, a key piece of its future was there to take it in.
Alonzo Gaffney, the first member of Ohio State’s 2019 recruiting class, got there early with his mother, Alexandria. The four-star power forward was home from Wolfeboro (New Hampshire) Brewster Academy, where he is playing his senior season, for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Standing courtside near the temporary locker room for the Buckeyes, Gaffney told The Dispatch that there was no way he was going to miss this game.
“As soon as I came home my dad had mentioned the game and I was like, ‘Yeah, of course I’m going,’ ” he said. “I had to go. It’s great to be down here. Whenever I come down here it just feels like I’m at home.”
Listed at 6-foot-9, Gaffney was an early priority for Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann when he was hired in June, 2017. He committed to the Buckeyes the following April, when he was a five-star prospect at Garfield Heights, Ohio.
After Gaffney officially signed with Ohio State on Nov. 14, Holtmann praised him for getting the ball rolling for the class that also includes five-star guard DJ Carton and four-star small forward EJ Liddell.
“I think it set the tone to have a young man as talented as he is from your own state,” Holtmann said. “I think his commitment really set the tone for the rest of the class, and he did a good job recruiting the other two along with our current players. No question, that got the ball rolling. It’s an exciting time for our program.”
The eventual additions of Carton during the summer and Liddell during the fall did not surprise Gaffney.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I had a feeling. I already knew we were going to get those guys as soon as I started talking to them. As soon as I saw them step on campus I knew they wanted to be here.”
How could he tell?
“Just the look in their eyes,” he said. “We have a lot of fun together and we have a tight connection. We’re already like brothers right now, so they had to come. They had to.”
Carton also attended the St. John game against Cleveland State, and the two sat in the same row behind the Ohio State bench.
The decision to transfer from Garfield Heights to Brewster Academy, which is now the third different high school he will attend, was not an easy one, Gaffney said. The overall college preparatory experience, he said, was a major selling point for him. The move has helped him put on some weight – he said he’s up to 202 pounds – which has led to increased confidence.
That in turn has led to a senior season that has him knocking on the door to again becoming a five-star recruit. He is the nation’s No. 40 overall recruit in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
“It’s changed my game a lot,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot stronger and a lot more confident in my game. From the last couple years, I wasn’t that confident. I think that comes from putting on weight. Just putting on the weight has put a lot more confidence in my game.”
That doesn’t mean the decision to transfer was made lightly. Gaffney said there are plenty of things he misses, including the opportunity to be named Mr. Basketball in Ohio.
“It’s a lot to let go, from being at home, graduating with your class and being around your family,” he said. “That’s a big part of it, especially getting Mr. Basketball. I really wanted that, but I just have to see the bigger picture.”
Gaffney said he remains close with Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson, and the two get together whenever Gaffney is back in town. Gaffney described Johnson as “like a father figure to me.”
He was equally complimentary of Holtmann, who has the Buckeyes off to a 6-0 start entering Wednesday’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge game with Syracuse.
“Coach Holtmann, he’s an unbelievable coach and I think he showed that last year after winning Big Ten coach of the year,” Gaffney said. “Whatever program he’s at, he just makes that team prosper. He’s an unbelievable coach and his coaching staff is great and he has a great group of players.”