CHICAGO — C.J. Jackson’s three-pointer had just started to find the net at Value City Arena last February when Penn State’s John Harrar found himself entangled with Kaleb Wesson.

Ohio State was desperately trying to fend off the Nittany Lions on the Buckeyes' home court, and in an effort to keep Wesson from the rim, Harrar put his shoulder into OSU's big man, basically pile-driving him into the floor. A foul was called, Wesson hit both free throws, and Ohio State held on for a three-point win.

 

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Fast-forward eight months, and there were Harrar and Wesson representing their teams at Big Ten media day. The two will face each other twice during the regular season, and when they do, Harrar said he knows what to expect from Wesson.

“Kaleb’s huge,” Harrar said. “A big guy. I saw he slimmed down a little bit. He’s a really good player. We definitely have to switch up the game plan for him.”

Wesson’s improved physique — he’s down to around 255 pounds, nearly 30 pounds lighter than last season’s playing weight — has him poised for a big year for the Buckeyes. In a league known for its post players, it’s a transformation that has opponents taking note and wondering how they might have to change their plans to defend him.

Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, part of a team that beat the Buckeyes three times last season, said his first key is to not front Wesson in the post.

“As soon as he catches it over top, the best thing you can do is contest his shot from behind and hope he misses and box him out,” he said. “There’s just guys with a feel who you know can score real effortlessly, and he’s one of those guys.”

The Buckeyes faced Minnesota once last season, and the Golden Gophers were on the road less than 48 hours removed from having played in Minneapolis. As a result, they were never competitive in a 20-point Ohio State win that was the Big Ten opener for both teams.

After playing only nine minutes in that game and seeing Wesson score 15 points and grab six rebounds, Minnesota big man Michael Hurt figures to be in line for more playing time this year. The senior said Wesson’s new profile sends a signal about what type of season he anticipates.

“It’s something to take note of, if someone has slimmed down or is trying to get in shape,” Hurt said. "It shows they’re expecting a much bigger workload, playing more minutes. Obviously, everyone cares about their basketball skill, but if you’re able to take care of your body as well, it shows they’re pretty committed.”

Harrar’s teammate, Lamar Stevens, is vying with Wesson to be the Big Ten’s top big man. Both were selected to the league’s 10-man preseason all-conference team, but Wesson was a unanimous selection, and Stevens was not.

Like Hurt, Stevens said he has noted Wesson’s new physique. He’s just not concerned about it.

“He’s a tough player to play against,” Stevens said. “His size and his ability to score inside and out make him different. I’m focused on what I’m doing. I don’t really worry about other guys. I’m just focused on myself and my team.”

 

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy