Ohio State was clinging to a one-point lead against a desperate Penn State team on Thursday when forward Andre Wesson headed to the free-throw line with 29.7 seconds remaining. A loss could damage the Buckeyes’ NCAA Tournament hopes, and there was no place the junior would rather have been.
“Going to the line at that time (of the game) was something I wanted since I got here, so it was good to finally do that,” he said.
He hit the second of the two free throws, pushing the lead to 72-70. Ohio State won 74-70 as the junior finished with his first career double-double: 15 points and 10 rebounds. Coach Chris Holtmann cited him as a key component to the win, particularly for his defense in limiting Lamar Stevens, the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer, to 6-of-16 shooting from the field.
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It wasn’t long ago, though, that Wesson’s basketball future was placed on pause. He played himself into an important rotation role as a freshman under coach Thad Matta, but he sat out the following summer with Holtmann at the helm when routine medical testing turned up a concern.
At Big Ten media day this season, Wesson said publicly for the first time it was “heart issues.” Despite facing an uncertain future at 19, Wesson said he remained at peace with his situation.
“It wasn’t really scary,” he said. “I’m a man of faith, so if I put it in God’s hands, I feel like anything is possible and I’ll be good. I want to have kids when I get older. Knowing that and knowing I’ve got to take care of myself maybe a little better or do certain things that I may not want to but have to, keeping that in the back of my head definitely helps.”
Otherwise, Wesson has been reluctant to give many details about that situation except to say that he has adjusted his diet a bit. It’s an approach in line with how he handles much of his life. He doesn’t participate in social media save for dabbling in Snapchat. He has never been fazed by his younger brother, Kaleb, a sophomore on the team, attracting more attention.
That nonchalance shouldn’t be confused for complacency. Wesson lost two front teeth and cracked a third while diving for a loose ball against Bucknell on Dec. 15. He returned moments later, finishing with nine rebounds and helping the Buckeyes get a defensive stop on the final possession to secure a two-point win.
His brother gave him some ribbing afterward, saying “ain’t nothing wrong with him” while noting that it wasn’t the first time he had lost teeth playing basketball. It also happened during Andre’s freshman season at Westerville South, against Groveport in a district tournament game.
“There was a loose ball, he dove headfirst for it and he lost one or two teeth,” Westerville South coach Ed Calo said. “We picked up the tooth, put it on ice and put him back in the game, because he begged to get back in. That was the moment I knew he was different and was going to be special.”
When it happened again, five years later on national television, Calo said he had one thought: “That’s Andre.”
It’s a toughness that Holtmann has come to appreciate while building his program. He wouldn’t know what he had in Wesson for a few months after taking the job, but that wasn’t atop the priority list that summer.
“Anytime you’re dealing with any kind of health issue, your player needs to know (his) health is most important,” he said. “They have to feel that, so you have to really make that incredibly clear to them. We tried to. We wanted him to know that at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens, and we’d love to have you but your health is most important.”
As a junior, Wesson has blossomed. He has scored more points this season (190, averaging 8.6 per game) than in his first two seasons combined (163, averaging 2.6 per game), started 21 games and is third on the team in minutes played.
Given what he has been through, he has appreciated every minute.
“Whenever it got bad or I didn’t feel like getting up at 6 a.m. or going running or getting extra shots up,” he said, “I definitely thought about that and how at any point it can be over.”