Basketball Coach Gaffney Also An Expert At Playing Drums

Bruce Gaffney on stage playing the drums.

As they say, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s a good way to describe longtime Palm Beach Central High School girls varsity basketball coach Bruce Gaffney.

For more than 30 years, Gaffney has been patrolling the high school basketball sidelines in his native South Carolina, and now here in Florida. For the past 17 years, he’s been a fixture in Palm Beach Central’s girls varsity basketball program as its head coach.

While Gaffney is a “basketball lifer,” there’s more to his life than basketball. When he’s not teaching the fast break, demonstrating the pick and roll, and showing his players how to box-out on rebounds, he’s playing music with a number of local bands. He plays the drums and Afro-Cuban percussion. Gaffney has been playing in bands for nearly 50 years, and he’s not planning to stop any time soon.

Gaffney was attracted to the drums for the same reason he likes basketball.

“To play the drums and to play basketball, you must use all your limbs,” Gaffney said. “Playing drums is a workout. And, as the drummer, you get to influence the flow of the music. Physically, it’s fun to play the drums.”

Gaffney is affiliated with a number of tribute bands playing the music of Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Motown and the Allman Brothers.

Just like basketball players idolize and admire other basketball players, Gaffney has a list of drummers who he has admired over the years. They include Bernard Purdie, Tony Smith, Buddy Rich, Steve Gadd, Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts and Mick Fleetwood.

When asked to name his favorite basketball players during his coaching career at Palm Beach Central, he declined the offer.

“I’ve had too many great players and wouldn’t want anybody to get upset by not having their name appear on the list,” Gaffney said.

But he didn’t hesitate to name his most accomplished team at Palm Beach Central, which was the Bronco squad from the 2011-12 season. That team reached the FHSAA’s Class 8A final four in Lakeland. Unfortunately, they lost by one point, 65-64, in the state semifinal game against Dr. Michael M. Krop High School from Miami.

The memories of that season and his starting five remain vivid.

“That year’s starting five of Lexus Love, Mariah Smelzer, Crystal Primm, Ashante Doby and Kensha’dra Smith was very talented,” Gaffney said.

Just as Gaffney’s teams have only played with the best brands of basketballs, such as Wilson, Rawlings and Spalding, he only plays drums from some of the best brands. “I have two sets of drums from Gretsch and Pearl,” Gaffney said. “They are great drums.”

Just as proper preparation is one of the keys to being a great basketball coach, Gaffney has the same mindset when it comes to getting ready to play music. In fact, he’s ready to depart for the next gig at a moment’s notice.

“I have one of three cars that I take to play music,” Gaffney said. “One car is for my drums, a second car carries my percussion instruments, and my third car is for any kind of dress rehearsal.”

When asked if he is a better basketball coach or a better drummer, Gaffney had a diplomatic response.

“In basketball and music, I’m only as good as my supporting cast,” he said.

While Gaffney is content with his life as a local drummer, it doesn’t stop him from dreaming about what it would be like to play with some big-time groups. If he had a chance to pinch-hit as a drummer, he’d love to play with Return to Forever, Parliament-Funkadelic, Carlos Santana or Steely Dan.

So, if you want to put a label on Gaffney, is he the basketball coach who plays the drums or is he the drummer who coaches basketball? The answer is that he’s both. And when asked if he is known a “coach” or “drummer boy,” he just smiles and laughs. It’s fair to say that he answers to both.