This is my second Kaleb Wesson column in three days. The first one covered Wesson’s recent progress on the court. This one covers a recent setback off the court. Both steps — forward and back — frame the challenge of charting the development of college athletes.
Wesson, the leading scorer and rebounder for Ohio State, was suspended on Friday for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy. The 6-foot-9 sophomore center will not play Saturday at No. 12 Purdue — and could miss more games; coach Chris Holtmann would only confirm that Wesson is expected to return this season — but he is scheduled to travel with the team to West Lafayette, Indiana. He also is allowed to practice.
Holtmann made no attempt to spin the negative positive. Good for him. Wesson blew it. The Buckeyes must fight through it.
“It’s a great challenge when you don’t have a player like Kaleb, who has had a tremendous season and has grown in a lot of ways,” Holtmann said. “And (he) has really impacted our team in both ends.”
And in both ways. For good and bad.
The good: Wesson’s 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds and presence down low on defense (those 270 pounds clog an opponent’s real estate) have the Buckeyes (18-10) positioned to make the NCAA Tournament.
The bad: Ohio State still is no NCAA lock, and with regular-season games remaining against Purdue, at Northwestern and at home against Wisconsin, losing Wesson is not what OSU needed after finding some mojo Tuesday with a 20-point win against No. 22 Iowa.
“Our margin for error is not significant as it is,” Holtmann said.
The Buckeyes will mix and match the rotation to minimize Wesson’s absence, including increased minutes for little-used 6-9 freshman Jaedon LeDee.
“It’s not something we have known for a week or something. This is pretty fresh,” Holtmann said of the suspension timeline. Wesson had 18 points and 11 rebounds on Tuesday, so whatever happened came to light between then and Friday morning.
Holtmann cautioned not to eviscerate Wesson for the violation — which I take as a sign the offense was not dangerously flagrant — saying the back-and-forth maturation process can be painfully slow; the Westerville South graduate also served a one-game suspension last season for being late to team meetings and was one of four players removed from the starting lineup in November for tardiness in preparations for Samford.
“Sometimes I’m as guilty as anybody, sometimes we forget — and I’m not making excuses, but we want guys to grow, both as players and as people, quicker than what is reality,” Holtmann said.
Wesson has improved significantly on the floor and in the classroom, having come off his best academic semester, Holtmann said.
“But when working with young people, you understand this is a process,” he said.
My view wavers on disciplinary matters involving college athletes. On one hand, 18-year-olds are not children. Old enough to see combat, old enough not to be cradled by a kid-soft culture.
But I also have young adults of my own, and am guilty of reminding them — at ages ranging from 21 to 24 — to wear coats in cold weather. It’s a constant tug-of-war between treating adults like kids and expecting young people to act like adults.
Plus, I recall what I was doing at 19, the same age as Wesson. I withhold details to protect fellow conspirators in dormitory/High Street/track and field hijinks. Let’s just say I was not averse to college adventure.
That said, consequences should be enforced for failing to meet athletic department standards. Wesson’s actions hurt not just him but his team. Punishment was in order. It is being served. The Buckeyes must move on. Good advice for the rest of us, too.