The physical work that Kaleb Wesson has put in to become an elite player has been well-documented. The Westerville native spent the summer working on his explosiveness and, at the request of coach Chris Holtmann, his perimeter shooting.

All of that should help the big man improve his stats after a strong freshman season for Ohio State. To become the player he aspires to be, though, Wesson has simultaneously focused on the mental side of things. It’s part of a long-term plan to lead him to NBA success.

 

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“I think I’m in the second step as far as I had a pretty good first year,” he said recently at team media day. “Second year, I’m trying to pick it up more. Pick up my numbers, pick up my teammates and become more of a leader, so that third year I’m taking off running. I’m already a leader on the team and I’m established and people are listening to me.”

Last season, Wesson made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team after averaging 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds. He views it as an OK season, one that shows the promise of what could be if he continues to develop.

Watching the NBA draft served as a wake-up call, Wesson has said, when he realized that nobody with his body type was being selected. To that end, he entered camp feeling like he was as conditioned as he has ever been, weighing 278 pounds and getting his body-fat percentage into the teens.

Grappling with the likes of Michigan State’s Nick Ward and Purdue’s Isaac Haas last season showed what it takes to be an effective Big Ten big man, as opposed to being a high school standout playing physically outmatched opponents.

“You’re not going to be able to box them out because they’re going to be able to go get the ball,” he said. “I feel like this year I have an understanding from the get-go. I feel like I was getting boxed out every play last year. It’s so aggressive. The Big Ten down there (under the basket), it’s like the trenches in football.”

That much will be important on an Ohio State team that is expected to run more of its offense through Wesson, a role that primarily went to Big Ten player of the year Keita Bates-Diop last season.

“Keita had the ability to make challenged shots and create scoring opportunities when he was closely guarded,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s going to fall on Kaleb some this year. … Kaleb is certainly going to be a guy who is going to get more volume opportunities.”

The biggest missing part, Wesson said, is learning how to log more minutes. He averaged 20.7 minutes last season, and although he said he isn’t ready to play 40 per game, he thinks 30 is reasonable. Holtmann, too, has pointed to the importance of keeping him on the court longer.

Some of that will be staying out of foul trouble, an issue that hampered him last season. And some of it obviously will come down to whether his offseason work on becoming more explosive leads to greater dunking ability, something he said he has gotten grief about from everyone from teachers to his barber.

Clearly, there is room to grow. And he is fine with that.

“I feel like I’m almost there,” he said. “Right now, if I had to put it at a percentage, I might put it at 75 as far as being dominating.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy