By: Keith Raad – Staff Writer
Laptop on his lap, and maybe some fast food wrappers scattered across the coffee table, Matt Kavanaugh sat on his couch in Centerville and watched the entire 2012-13 University of Dayton men’s basketball season as a fan.
Suspended from the University of Dayton on Oct. 24, 2012, the then-senior center Kavanaugh was pulled for violating the UD’s Standards of Behavior and Code of Conduct, per UD Athletic Director Tim Wabler. Kavanaugh was a suspect in a sexual assault investigation in the fall of 2012, but the charges were dropped.
He was reinstated after his suspension May 8 to complete his now redshirt senior year.
Kavanaugh, a Centerville, Ohio native, spent his childhood looking forward to a future on Tom Blackburn Court at UD Arena. His parents even brought him to games as early as the nine months he was in his mother’s womb.
“I’ve been a fan my whole life and that’s why I’m grateful to have the opportunity to finish up here in my senior season, and to have the opportunity to graduate from this university,” Kavanaugh said. “I watched every game that was on TV. It was tough knowing that I wanted to be out there with the guys. I wanted to contribute and support them every chance I could. I would text them here and there.”
He could never celebrate with them during a win, and could only text his teammates his condolences after a loss. It was an empty feeling he said, but during the university’s process of suspending him, the feeling never left him that he could return.
“They never completely ruled it out, but I always knew I had a chance to come back,” Kavanaugh said.“When they finally told me that I could for sure come back it was a great relief. I’m going to do right by them.”
Recalling the day it was made known to him that he had been suspended, Kavanaugh made a swift return to the past, but righted himself.
“It was just disappointment, but I’d rather not go into the details of all that,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s in the past. I’m ready to graduate. I’m ready to win some games. I’m ready to move on.”
Marred by the 2012-13 season’s absence, Kavanaugh admitted to having some anxiety toward his first game in front of a Dayton crowd during the Red-Blue Scrimmage at UD Arena Oct. 19.
When his name was called for the first time in UD Arena since March 6, 2012, against George Washington University, fans responded by giving him the loudest applause of all.
“It was definitely a huge relief to hear that,” Kavanaugh said. “Yeah, a [few butterflies]. Just because a year off, and then coming back for the first time was a little bit nerve-racking. It’s been a long year off and my teammates have been great welcoming me back. My coaches have been great and I’ve gotten support from people in the community.”
With one year remaining as an NCAA student-athlete, Kavanaugh said he realizes that his reputation at UD is not the same. But because he has one year left, he would rather focus on basketball that trying to control those who criticize.
“I don’t really want to worry about other people’s opinions or perceptions,” Kavanaugh said. “I want to be as good of a person as I can be now that I’m back.”
His mind back on basketball, the 6-foot-10-inch, 250-pound center spent the summer and early fall getting back in season shape.
“When I first came back in the summer, I was definitely rusty,” he said. “It’s hard to prepare with the same level of intensity like a college practice. You’re on your own. But I tried to shake off all that rust in the summer workouts and the fall workouts. The first live action experience was a little bit rusty. But I feel better now. I was rushing a little bit in the post, but I think I’ve calmed that down.”
Though the scattered fans at the Red-Blue exhibition game cheered at the sound of his name, the true test of community reception may come during the Saturday, Nov. 9, home opener against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
While the opposing team’s big man will test Kavanaugh’s post game prowess one-on-one in the paint, the 13,435 people surrounding him in UD Arena will decide something a little bit bigger than that.