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Men’s Basketball: New role awaits Ohio State forward Andre Wesson in final season

Ohio State then-junior forward Andre Wesson (24) shoots a foul shot in the second half of the game against Indiana at the Big Ten tournament in Chicago on Mar. 14. Ohio State won 79-74. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Multimedia Editor

Andre Wesson has been through it all at Ohio State.

After the senior forward’s first season, the university parted ways with the head coach that recruited him. In his second season, he fought for minutes behind Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate while his younger brother Kaleb received more shine. This past year, Wesson had to play out of position on an undersized team whose only true big men struggled with injuries and suspension.

Now the only scholarship senior on the team, Wesson will face his next challenge: assuming an unfamiliar vocal leadership role on a Buckeye team whose 12 active players will feature seven freshmen and sophomores.

“I think he’s gotta take the next step as a player and a leader, and we’ve challenged him in that area,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think that is a significant area for us. We all know that this is a critical summer for us in a lot of ways because we have a young team.”

While Wesson said he has met with coaches about their desire for him to lean into a leadership role as the only four-year player in the program, he said it isn’t something that comes second-nature to him.

“My personality’s not like a rah-rah guy,” Wesson said. “If I need to, I can do that for the team, but I’m more of a laid back guy. Just showing guys how to work, that’s the best way I know how to lead.”

However, it wouldn’t be the first time Wesson has had to step up for the Buckeyes.

Barely a top 300 national recruit in 2016, the Westerville, Ohio, native was a late signee to an Ohio State program undergoing tumultuous times.

All five members of Thad Matta’s No. 5 nationally ranked 2015 recruiting class transferred out within two years, and Matta was let go after a 17-15 finish in the 2016-17 season, during which Wesson put up 2.3 points per game on 11.2 minutes.

Wesson is the only remaining holdover from that year, and following a sophomore season that saw him improve in nearly every statistical category, Holtmann tapped him for a starting role entering his junior season.

Holtmann struggled to replace the production of Bates-Diop and Tate — four-year forwards who were two of Ohio State’s top three scorers in 2017-18.

The responsibility to make up for that size and versatility in the frontcourt largely fell upon Wesson, especially once 6-foot-8 forward Kyle Young became hampered with injuries for much of the year.

Despite often playing mismatched at the power forward and center positions, Wesson’s game once again saw an across-the-board enhancement in his expanded role.

The 6-foot-6 forward was third on the team with 8.6 points a game this past season, up from 2.9 the year prior. Wesson raised his shooting percentage from .379 to .430, and set career-high marks in assists (1.8), rebounds (4.1), steals (.06) and blocks (.04).

Holtmann said Wesson, who put up 13 and 14 points against Indiana and Michigan State, respectively, in the Big Ten Tournament, was a key factor in Ohio State’s ability to get back to the Elite Eight for the second straight year.

“He’s going to be critical for us,” Holtmann said. “Andre’s a troop. As I’ve said, he’s a great example of a young man who’s just gotten better every year and really provided some great leadership last year. We’re not in the NCAA Tournament without him.”

In order for Wesson’s lead-by-example leadership style to be effective on a team with four incoming freshmen, he said he needs to continue to make significant strides in his game between seasons.

With the NCAA moving its 3-point line back more than a foot ahead of the coming season, Wesson said improving his 3-point percentage is his top priority. Wesson shot .346 from beyond the arc this past season, but said 40 percent is what he is looking to achieve in his senior season.

Ohio State has added size with 7-foot tall recruit Ibrahima Diallo and 6-foot-9 Alonzo Gaffney. Additional back-up down low as well as the return of his brother, Kaleb, should allow Wesson to return to his preferred small forward position, though he said he will play anywhere the team needs him.

Besides improving individual facets of his game, Wesson said his offseason mindset also revolves around capturing a Big Ten Championship — regular season or tournament — which hasn’t been accomplished by Ohio State since 2013.

Boasting a top 15 national recruiting class for the first time since 2015, that goal may not be out of reach, but Wesson knows his final year at Ohio State will be his first with lofty expectations.

“It’s obvious that there’s a lot of hype going into the season but we’re just trying to focus on ourselves every day,” Wesson said. “Once the freshmen get here that’s kind of our focus with them is to try to get better every day. Don’t worry about later in the year, just focus on the day in front of you.”

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