There’s no getting around the fact that, barring a major change of heart, the Ohio State men’s basketball roster will have a Kaleb Wesson-sized hole next season.
Wesson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder for two years running, has entered his name in the NBA draft. He did so while retaining his collegiate eligibility, but he is not expected to return for his senior season.
The OSU roster currently is at maximum capacity even without Wesson, a 6-foot-9 center from Westerville South High School. In an end-of-season conference call with reporters last week, coach Chris Holtmann spoke of Wesson’s time with the Buckeyes in the past tense at least a half-dozen times during a 75-minute session.
So without the player who has been the offensive focal point and the only proven true center on the roster, how will Ohio State try to replace him next season without a like-for-like substitute on the roster?
The first answer is Kyle Young, but his ascension would come with a catch.
"His last two years here, he has played the power forward spot but he’s guarded the biggest guy," Holtmann said. "My biggest thing for Kyle is we’ve got to keep him healthy because he’s yet in his career been able to play above 23 minutes a game in league play."
Young, a 6-8 senior-to-be, has not managed to play a full season since entering the regular rotation as a sophomore. A stress fracture in his right leg cost him four games in 2018-19 and limited him for the final half of the season, and a battle with appendicitis and another leg injury kept him out of six games as a junior.
It’s not just injuries, however, that prevent Young from being a natural replacement for Wesson.
Though Young is just one inch shorter than Wesson, his listed weight of 205 pounds entering the 2019-20 season is 65 pounds lighter than Wesson’s listed 270. (Wesson’s actual weight last season likely was closer to 260 pounds after a rigorous offseason program.)
The OSU player closest to Wesson’s heft was freshman E.J. Liddell, a power forward who is listed at 236 pounds. But he’s only 6-6.
The only player on the 2020-21 roster who at least equals Wesson’s height is 6-10 sophomore Ibrahima Diallo, a seldom-used reserve who as a raw freshman totaled 40 minutes of playing time in eight games.
It’s hard to picture Diallo being ready to step into a significant role just yet, meaning Young and Liddell might need help from incoming freshman Zed Key. He’s a power forward by trade, but at 6-8, 230 pounds, he could see regular playing time at center.
Holtmann described Key as being "undersized, but he has good length," before adding, "Then there’s times where I don’t know that we’ll play necessarily a traditional (center)."
As a reference point, Holtmann cited Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman. As a junior this past season, the 6-8, 245-pound Tillman averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks and was named second-team all-Big Ten as well as the league’s defensive player of the year.
At this point, there aren’t any real answers, just different options and the optimism that the center-by-committee crew, plus the added length on the wings, will help cover for Wesson’s missing presence in the paint, particularly on defense.
"We’re going to be playing differently offensively and defensively, there’s no question," Holtmann said. "It’s a major question mark for us going forward how we’re going to answer that."