Freshman forward Kaleb Wesson crouched on the sideline, waiting for his chance to enter Ohio State’s exhibition game against Wooster. Even haunched over, the 6-foot-9, 270-pound big man was nearly as tall as the officials sitting at the table behind him.
Finally, with 14:15 left in the first half, the whistle blew, and Wesson took the court for the first time in front of an Ohio State crowd.
Wesson said he was nervous heading out at first in front of the home fans, but that he eventually was able to get his feet under him soon after arriving in the game.
“I had butterflies at the beginning of the game,” Wesson said. “But then the first time I went in, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just basketball.’ So it was fun.”
Though not a starter, Wesson shined in his performance, going 5-for-8 from the field and finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds. However, he also had his struggles. The forward fouled out with 5:12 remaining in the game and looked ineffective at times defensively.
Head coach Chris Holtmann said with that size, just as he draws the attention of the fans, so too does he draw the eye of officials, making it obvious when he commits a foul. Holtmann added that this is not the first time he fouled out. He also was ousted from the closed-door exhibition against Xavier.
“It’s a byproduct of being big and physical and he catches the official’s eye,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to understand that as a big guy.”
Fixing the issue will not be easy, and it will not come quick. As Holtmann said, big guys struggle with foul trouble, particularly early in their careers.
“We just have to show it to him over and over. It’s going to be something. Trust me, we’re not going to come here in a month and say, ‘Oh, he’s got this foul trouble thing figured out,’” Holtmann said. “He’s got a really good approach right now. But it’s going to be something he’s always going to struggle with and we’ve talked to him about that and he’s got to accept the fact that, ‘Hey, I’ve got to continue to improve in this particular area.’”
The height of Wesson will never be something he can change. However, Wesson has progressively tried to trim down his weight to assist him in all areas of the game. Though Holtmann said it would aid him in reducing the amount of fouls he commits, he said it will also help with some of the other areas with which Wesson struggles.
Hotlmann knows he has a talented player in Wesson, but between the foul trouble and additional struggles outside of his offensive ability, he still has work to do before he is ready to be a full-time contributor.
“He’s got to continue to get in great shape and he can get in better shape, and his technique has to continue to grow and improve,” Holtmann said. “He’s got great skill. The biggest challenge for Kaleb is going to be, how does he impact the other end? Can he rebound? Can he get traffic rebounds? Can he defend ball screens? How good is he defending the post?”
As Holtmann told The Lantern in October, Wesson has been self-motivated to improve his shape and deserves all the credit for the improving condition. Wesson knows that his conditioning needs to improve and that he needs to trim down his weight.
“I’m nowhere near where I want to be as far as my conditioning goes,” Wesson said. “I have a long way to go. Right now, I feel like it helped me more as, like you said, on the defensive end, as just being able to play great defense for a longer period of time.”
If Wesson can improve in the other aspects of his game, he has the playmaking ability to be an impact player for Ohio State and a real crowd-pleaser for the Buckeyes.
All game, the announcement of Wesson’s entry brought down a roar of approval from the crowd as the Columbus native quickly turned to be a fan-favorite. As he continued to dominate defenders in the paint, fans oohed and aahed at the talent he flashed.
“We get enamored with points and he’s really good at that,” Holtmann said. “The challenge for him is going to be in terms of playing, can he stay out of foul trouble, and how does he defend consistently.”
Wesson has yet to play in a regular-season game. This was only an exhibition game, and he still has a full season ahead of him in just his first year of play. The playing time will come, he will make highlight reel plays and excite the crowd. He will also struggle through some trying times as he works to make himself a better all-around player.
He will get his chance to play, but for now he will have to become accustomed to coming in off the sideline.