Ohio State will open its 2019-20 men's basketball season by hosting Cincinnati for the first time in nearly 98 years. The Buckeyes and Bearcats will meet Wednesday in Value City Arena, marking only the 12th time the in-state programs have met and the second time in as many years that they’ve played each other within state lines after having not done so since 1921. In preparation for the start of the season, The Dispatch is counting down with power rankings for each member of the Ohio State roster.
These rankings are an educated guess at which players will have the most significant on-court impact during the course of the season.
No. 1: Kaleb Wesson
Height/weight: 6 feet 9 / 255 pounds
Jersey number: 34
Background: A local product from Westerville South, Wesson committed to Ohio State’s class of 2017 during the summer of 2015. A four-star recruit in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, Wesson was the top recruit from Ohio, the No. 6 center in the nation and overall No. 75 prospect. His father, Keith, played for the Buckeyes from 1983-87, and his older brother, Andre, is a senior on the team.
2018-19 stats: In 32 games including 31 starts, Wesson averaged a team-high 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. He shot 50.0 percent from the field (156 for 312), 34.7 percent from three (26 for 75) and 73.4 percent (130 for 177) from the free-throw line. Wesson had six double-doubles. He drew an average of 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes, the 17th-best mark in the nation.
Career stats: Wesson has played in 65 games for the Buckeyes and made 61 starts while averaging 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He’s a career 52.5 percent shooter from the floor.
Need to know: His jersey number is a nod to both his father, who wore 43, and two centers he enjoyed watching as a child: Hakeem Olajuwan and Shaquille O’Neal. Wesson was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team after averaging 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds and helping the Buckeyes to a second-place Big Ten finish. He returned for his junior season after testing the NBA waters and earning workouts with the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics. As far as current NBA players, Wesson said he sees players such as Nikola Jokic and DeMarcus Cousins as inspiration.
2018-19 recap: The focal point of the Ohio State offense, Wesson was the conduit through which the attack flowed. He announced himself with 15 points in a season-opening win at Cincinnati and eventually enjoyed a 12-game stretch of scoring in double figures, one that included a career-high 31-point effort against Youngstown State. With few other players capable of carrying the offense, Wesson showed an expanded overall game that included a three-point shot and attempted more than five times the number of threes than as a freshman. The increased attention from opposing defenses also found him on the wrong side of the whistles, and he fouled out of five games while averaging 3.2 fouls per game. He was suspended for the final three games of the regular season but returned in a big way, averaging 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in his final four games, all in the postseason.
2019-20 outlook: When the Buckeyes warmed up for Wednesday night’s exhibition against Cedarville, Wesson was among the four players at center court representing the team as captains. He enters his junior season not only as the face of the program and the most accomplished player but as a team leader.
There is more talent around Wesson than last year, but he remains the first option on offense thanks to his impressive work during the offseason. Within a week after the end of last season, he was in the gym with his trainer focused on overhauling his body. He dropped more than 30 pounds before the start of the summer, allowing him to play with greater pace and explosiveness and in more situations. Away from the court, multiple sources in and around the program have unanimously commended him for his maturity and willingness to accept a significant leadership role on a youthful roster.
The weight loss will allow Wesson to spend more time on the floor and should help him cut down on his fouls. He’ll be better able to defend on the perimeter, will likely attempt and make more threes than a season ago and should have a few more dunks in him.
“I just feel like I took a step as far as my game goes, being able to expand my range, being able to work from the NBA three-point range I feel like helped me a lot as far as adjusting to our new three-point line,” he said. “Coach is giving me more freedom out there to play on the perimeter, making passes, dribbling the ball a little bit more.”
If he puts it all together, Wesson is a legitimate first-team all-Big Ten candidate. He was a unanimous pick for the 10-member preseason team. And this might very well be his last season in Columbus, because an NBA job will likely be waiting.
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