When Versailles takes the court Saturday evening for a non-conference home game, the Division III boys' basketball team in western Ohio is expecting a late-arriving crowd.
Nearly 15 percent of the town will be making a late-afternoon drive home from Columbus after watching two of their native sons squarely situated on opposite sides of a top-15 college basketball showdown with significant Big Ten implications. No. 14 Ohio State, featuring freshman forward Justin Ahrens, will host No. 8 Michigan State, which features junior forward Kyle Ahrens, his older brother.
More than 400 citizens from Versailles, a village of 2,700, will be at Value City Arena for the game. That includes parents Kevin and Susan Ahrens, along with all of their children: Bryant, Bethany, Jacob and Justin’s twin brother, A.J., who is also a freshman at Ohio State.
How does dad feel about seeing two of his sons suiting up against each other?
“Kind of nerve-wracking,” he told The Dispatch. “Justin probably won’t get the playing time Kyle will, but you pray for the best for both of them and each team because both coaches, teammates – they’re in great schools. I just sit and evaluate and stay neutral. You root for one kid and the team and you want to root for the other one and the team.
If he plays his season average of 18.9 minutes per game, Kyle will set a new career-high for minutes played only 15 games into his junior year. Injuries forced the 6-6, 210-pound older brother to take a redshirt last season, but he has started five games this season as a fourth-year player and is averaging 6.0 points and 2.7 rebounds. With Joshua Langford likely out due to injury, he figures to start against the Buckeyes.
Justin, meanwhile, has played in seven of Ohio State’s first 13 games, averaging 1.1 points in 5.4 minutes per appearance while he continues to adapt to the Division I level. He holds around 10 school records including most career points, rebounds and assists.
“They were just completely different players,” Versailles coach Travis Swank, who was an assistant during Kyle’s career before ascending to the head job, said. “Justin had a little bit more finesse and grace to his game and Kyle kind of blew by you and stuffed it in your face more. Two totally different players, but both of them were ultra-successful for our program.”
Kevin Ahrens said he’s not sure if the family will be sporting any sort of split shirts supporting both the Buckeyes and the Spartans but that he will be representing both teams somehow. Swank offered a possible solution: wear some Ahrens Versailles gear.
Not surprisingly, both have instilled a sense of pride in the tight-knit Versailles community.
“I think there’s a lot of pride that the people are going over there and just proud to see that their kids – and I say 'their kids' because here in a small town, everybody feels like they played a part in raising the kid,” Swank said. “I think it’s neat they get to see two kids on such a big stage. A lot of people are anxious and want to get there and see what our two young men from Versailles have got to offer, because we don’t get that very often in a small town, to have Division I athletes like this.”
The brothers talk frequently, their dad said, and compete against each other often in Fortnite. The older Kyle offered Justin advice about remaining patient while acclimating to a higher level of basketball, and Kevin said the two made a similar type of decision when they committed to their respective programs.
As dad put it: “You’re going to programs that are top-20 in the country and if you think you’re good, you need to take a step back and look it over. Do you guys want to play right away, or do you want to sit until maybe your senior year?”
Both Swank and Kevin Ahrens said they immediately circled the dates when the Buckeyes and Spartans would play this season when the 2018-19 schedules were released. Kevin said he will be sitting with the Ohio State parents Saturday and with the Michigan State parents when the Buckeyes go to the Breslin Center on Feb. 17.
In both cases, his hope will be the same.
“Just hope for a good game and the atmosphere will be awesome,” he said.