Ohio State freshman center Kaleb Wesson is a relic. At 6-foot-9, 270 pounds, the former Mr. Basketball for the state of Ohio hearkens back to a forgotten era, where the lore is threaded with tales of dominant centers and back to the basket technicians. In the face of postionless small ball and an increased premium on the three-point shot, Wesson resists, instead setting up camp on the interior.
Through 10 games, Wesson’s post presence has been a necessity for the Buckeyes. Already having lost three key front court members this offseason, sophomore center Micah Potter went down with an ankle injury. Outside of Wesson and his per game averages of 11.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, Ohio State is left with freshmen forward Kyle Young.
“[Wesson] has given us a great lift coming in, obviously with the injury and the depth issues we have there,” Coach Chris Holtmann said. “He was in a little bit of foul trouble [against Wisconsin] but he fought through it.”
Fighting through foul trouble is something that Wesson has quickly become familiar with. In five of the Buckeyes 10 games, he has registered at least four fouls, including two disqualifications. Perhaps Wesson is a victim of big man syndrome, where merely his size differential presents an optical illusion for referees. But more often than not, the issues stem from effort and positioning.
This idea was on full display in Ohio State’s game against Clemson. After a missed shot from Jae’Sean Tate, Clemson turns a long rebound into a fast break opportunity. Wesson trails, but seems to surrender at the sight of an open three point attempt. When he’s caught out of position, he fouls:
In negative plays, effort is a recurring theme for Wesson. Later in the same Clemson game, a routine ball screen hedge would have prevented a clean drive to the paint. Instead, Wesson watches the ball handler penetrate the defense, causing Kam Williams to leave his man and give up the open three:
Wesson’s body language suggests awareness was not the issue. His man is a threat from the perimeter, and he is expecting a teammate to pick up the driver. But a soft hedge and quick recovery would have prevented the open shot.
To Wesson’s credit, he has shown the ability to defend the pick and roll at a high level. Early in the second half, Clemson attempts another ball screen with Wesson’s man as screener. This time, Wesson hedges, staying with the ball handler until his teammate can fight through the pick and contest the shot. He then immediately charges the lane, bodying up his man and shielding him from securing the offensive rebound:
Plays like this suggest Wesson has all of the necessary tools to be a dominant defender. Fine tuning will come as the freshman matures and progresses with time, but a sustained effort will go a long way. When Wesson focuses and displays the drive and discipline, there are not many players that can best him.
Against Michigan, Wesson was matched up with a versatile and athletic player in Moritz Wagner. The Wolverines get him isolated on the wing, but Wesson goes to work, staying in front of Wagner, absorbing the spin, keeping his hands up, and getting the clean block:
Offensively, Wesson’s game is fully developed. He does a tremendous job of utilizing his frame to create space on the block, and draws from a deep bag of tricks. Against Wisconsin, Wesson scored a career high 19, including this embarrassment inducing and-one at the hands of Ethan Happ:
While Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. will likely dominate the Big Ten Freshman of the Year conversation, Kaleb Wesson should remain in the fringes. Last week he garnered his first Big Ten Freshman of the Week award after his 19 point, 3 rebound performance against Wisconsin and a 15 point, 5 rebound showing against Clemson. Wesson, though, followed with a quiet eight points against Michigan, and was sidelined down the stretch due to foul trouble.
Wesson has not been immune to the ebb and flow of freshman success, but as the season progresses, and he and the Buckeyes continue to gel, his performance should stabilize. By season’s end, Wesson will likely see his name on the All-Freshmen team.