Men's basketball | Ohio State players say they have no ill will toward Kaleb Wesson
At least one fan took his opportunity to verbalize his displeasure to Kaleb Wesson during his three-game suspension. It came early in the first half of a dismal offensive start at Northwestern on March 6, with the Buckeyes stuck on two points with the midway point of the first half approaching.
The fan, in the upper deck of Welsh-Ryan Arena but in close proximity to the Ohio State bench, bellowed, “This is your fault, Kaleb! We have two points because of you!”
It’s almost inconceivable that Wesson, who was sitting out his second game, didn’t hear him. And aside from the obvious questions that arise from an adult taunting a college kid, it raises another: What if his teammates, who had to struggle through a trio of losses that significantly damaged their NCAA Tournament hopes, felt the same way to some degree?
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On Tuesday afternoon, senior guard C.J. Jackson and sophomore forward Kyle Young were the first Buckeyes to meet with reporters since Wesson’s return to action was announced Monday. The duo then, as several players did when the suspension was announced for an undisclosed violation of athletic department policy, refuted the thought that they would hold ill will toward one of their teammates.
“It’s exciting,” Young said of Wesson’s return. “When you’re missing something like that, we’re all really glad to have him back.”
Added Jackson, “It’s always nice to have one of your teammates, one of the guys you’re really close to, being able to play out there. I think we’re already on the same page. You have to push forward and make adjustments with him being out and then with him being back, when things like that happen, with how fast the season goes, you can’t really consume yourself around that.
“There will definitely be adjustments and change, but I think it’s for the good, just to have all of our pieces back.”
In the three games without Wesson, Ohio State lost to Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin by a combined 59 points and shot 32.6 percent from the field. Those numbers are buoyed by a frantic finish to the Wisconsin game, one in which the Buckeyes forced overtime despite trailing by 22 points with seven minutes to play.
As Purdue was raining jumpers, or Northwestern was pounding the ball inside, or even as Wisconsin was doing a little bit of everything, it would be easy to build a scenario where resentment could grow within the ranks.
“He’s still there,” graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods said after that Northwestern loss. “He’s talking. He’s trying to help (Jaedon LeDee), all the bigs, trying to help them out. We would much rather have him playing, but we’ve got to hold it down until he gets back so whenever he comes back, hopefully he shows everybody that he’s the best big in our league.”
Coach Chris Holtmann said he was on alert for any signs of discord and answered the question with a question.
“What do you do when you get angry with your wife? You talk it through,” he said. “You have a conversation. You don’t let that build to resentment. When you’re a part of a situation where you care about people, then those kind of conversations need to be real honest and authentic and real. That’s my expectation, that that has happened.
“If there are some things, and I’m sure there probably have been, but we’ve done as much as we can to put it behind us. I think those conversations have happened.”
Knowing that he would return this season, Holtmann made the decision to keep Wesson actively involved with the team. He traveled to Purdue and Northwestern and had been anchoring the scout team in practice. It also sounds like he was putting in plenty of extra sweat under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Quadrian Banks.
“He was doing additional workouts in the morning with coach Q,” Holtmann said. “He was doing two workouts a day, a morning workout that was required, as well as practice, and then some post-practice conditioning.”