At some point during his collegiate career, Kevin Gaffney heard the whispers and found himself wondering the same thing.
A product of Alliance, Gaffney had earned scholarship offers from Ohio State, Indiana, Pitt and others but ultimately signed to play basketball for Cincinnati. And as a member of the Bearcats, he wanted a shot at the team he grew up rooting for and the one he had wanted to play for.
“I always asked why we don’t play Ohio State,” he told The Dispatch. “I wanted to play Ohio State bad back then, but they would say that Ohio State doesn’t want to play us, for whatever reason. I don’t know if it was recruiting or bragging rights, but I always wanted to play those games back then.”
Now, nearly 40 years later, Gaffney's son will get that chance. When Gaffney's alma mater comes to Value City Arena on Wednesday night to open the 2019-20 season against the Buckeyes, Alonzo Gaffney will be making his collegiate debut as a freshman member of the home team.
As the elder Gaffney put it, sometimes God works in mysterious ways.
“I truly believe that things happened in my life that I couldn’t foresee back then,” he said. “God might’ve had a plan. Maybe it wasn’t meant for me to make it (at Ohio State), but maybe it is for Zo.”
While in high school, the elder Gaffney had been planning to play for Pitt coach Tim Grgurich until an official visit to see the Bearcats changed his mind. On his trip to Cincinnati, the program’s historical achievements — including its consecutive wins against the Buckeyes in the 1961 and 1962 national title games — were emphasized to Gaffney.
As a Bearcats senior, he was averaging roughly 16 points a game before an ankle sprain hobbled him for the rest of the season. He finished at 10.8 points per game, including a 22-point effort in a win against crosstown rival Xavier.
The significance of playing his father’s alma mater wasn’t lost on Alonzo Gaffney after Wednesday’s exhibition game against Cedarville. He didn’t mince words, either.
“He’s really excited about the rivalry,” Gaffney said of his father. “I am also. I just want to go out there and kill them, really. He’s rooting for us, he’s rooting for the Buckeyes, and I’m excited.”
Gaffney’s father will be on hand for the rare meeting. It’s only the 12th time the in-state programs have met, but the second time in as many years that they'll play each other within state lines after not having done so since 1921.
Back home in Cleveland, Kevin Gaffney will have friends and family cheering for the Buckeyes. But to the south, he’ll have friends and former teammates pulling for the visitors.
“A lot of good memories at Cincinnati,” he said. “I’ll be rooting for my son and Ohio State and coach (Chris) Holtmann and them. Hopefully, they can get them a great victory to start the season off.”
And in the process, maybe the son can live out the fantasy of his father.