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Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson navigating life changes in pursuit of NBA draft spot

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
Kaleb Wesson speaks during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team on Sept. 24, 2019.

The process has not changed for Kaleb Wesson, even as all of the variables have.

As the calendar flips to September, the big man is working on his game and using feedback from NBA personnel to put himself in the best position to impact his team. The difference now is that Wesson is prepping for a professional career, one with an uncertain calendar leading to an unknown start date.

So while the jersey is changing, the work is not.

“It almost feels the same, in a sense,” Wesson told The Dispatch. “How I prepare is to take it every day at a time, not look forward to things, because you can’t control what the future looks like. I’m working as hard as I can every day, watching film by myself, studying guys in the league with my frame, where I think my role is going to be.

“That’s stuff I would’ve been doing at Ohio State if I was preparing for my senior year. I’m not taking anything different besides this is a higher level.”

After entering his name into the NBA draft for a second straight year, Wesson posted what read as a goodbye to Buckeyes fans on April 1. On May 22, he signed with an agent in Jelani Floyd of Beyond Athlete Management and put his name firmly into the draft.

It came after a season that saw him lead the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding for a second straight year after listening to the advice from NBA scouts, dropping more than 30 pounds and developing his overall game. He finished third in Big Ten three-point shooting percentage and averaged nearly a double-double per game at 14.0 points and 9.3 rebounds, earning second-team all-Big Ten honors as voted upon by the coaches and media.

“I put a foot in (the draft) last year and I got the feedback that they wanted me to lose the weight to see where I was,” he said. “They wanted to see how I could affect the game other than just shooting the ball, just putting shots up. I upped my rebounds, my assists, things like that, even showing them I can initiate an offense, be a focal point in an offense if need be as far as bringing the ball upcourt, going into dribble-handoff ball screens, things like that.”

Adding a new layer to the situation: Wesson became a father to a boy, Kavari, born Aug. 9 in Columbus. Wesson remained home for three weeks before returning to Houston to resume his training in an effort to best be able to provide for his family.

“Me going back and forth (between Houston and Columbus) wouldn’t help anybody,” he said. “I feel like if I’m missing time to put into my game, I don’t think that helps my son at all as far as putting clothes on his back and feeding him. A lot of people might get upset, and if it was up to me I’d be in Columbus, but he has a great mom and my family understand the situation and I’m blessed with that.”

Impending fatherhood was a factor but not the main reason for his decision to leave Ohio State, Wesson said. CJ Walker, his on-court teammate last season, has a young daughter, and Wesson said he knows that Ohio State would help ensure he could take care of his son just as well as it did with Walker’s child.

The support doesn’t make the distance any easier, though. Between now and whenever the NBA holds its draft, Wesson said he will return home for Kavari’s christening but otherwise will continue to train in Houston while using FaceTime to stay connected.

Since declaring for the draft, Wesson said he has interviewed with seven teams. No individual workouts can be held amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the draft is currently scheduled for Oct. 16 but could be pushed back. Wesson has been invited to participate in the NBA’s draft combine, should one take place. He does not currently appear in mock drafts produced by ESPN or The Athletic, but is widely viewed as a potential second-round pick.

Having a combine “would help me tremendously, just getting my game in front of people’s eyes I feel like would help,” Wesson said. “But I can’t control that. My family (and I) talk about it all the time: Just be ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

For now, he continues to work in Houston with trainers who worked with the likes of Dwight Howard, D.J. Augustin and Robert Covington. All three are NBA veterans who have achieved Wesson’s long-stated goal of not just making an NBA roster, but rather sticking with a team and carving out a career.

It’s what keeps him motivated to keep his weight down, build his repertoire and take the next step.

“I’m not trying to do too much other than maximize my role,” he said. “Whatever that role is, making sure I’m an all-star at that role is something that I’m really working on right now. Working hard every day is all you can do.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy