Kaleb and Andre Wesson's reunion tops Ohio State summer league action

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Brothers and former Ohio State teammates Kaleb (left) and Andre Wesson smile after playing in the Kingdom Summer League at Ohio Dominican University on July 17, 2022.

When he grabbed the defensive rebound, Kaleb Wesson hardly had to look upcourt to know what to do with the ball. Taking a quick dribble and facing his team’s basket, Wesson launched a pass more than halfway up the court to a streaking teammate.

It fell right into the hands of his older brother, Andre, who got in behind the defense, collected the pass and easily laid it in for an early bucket. For a moment, the brothers were teammates again, hearkening back to their days first at Westerville South and then Ohio State.

Sunday afternoon, the Wessons were reunited on team Flee Kicks in the Kingdom Summer League at Ohio Dominican University. After Andre wrapped up his first professional season that saw him play in Finland and Kaleb spent time first in Israel and then Puerto Rico, it was a day worth celebrating for the Wesson family.

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“I had a lot of fun today,” Kaleb said. “I haven’t had this much fun playing basketball in a while. You want to win, but it’s really about coming out here, everybody enjoying themselves and working on your game.”

Flee Kicks didn’t win, but as the younger Wesson brother pointed out, it was hardly the biggest takeaway of the day. After leaving Ohio State following his junior year, Kaleb Wesson has continued to show the fruits of the work that went into significantly changing his body while playing for the Buckeyes. Once a traditional center who made his way primarily on the low block, he shed nearly 40 pounds entering his junior season and emerged as the team’s top 3-point threat.

That season, he finished fourth in the Big Ten after hitting 42.5% of his attempts from deep. It was a body of work that changed the trajectory of his career.

“I give credit to coach (Chris) Holtmann, making me shoot 3s a lot more during college,” he said. “I thought I was an inside player. I thought my money would be made in the paint. That’s where I get my bread and butter, but come to find out my pro career, teams value my shooting a lot more then they do my inside game. That’s just where the game has gone now. I give (Holtmann) a lot of credit.”

As a result, Kaleb said he has been used as a stretch-4 or stretch-5 during his professional career.

“That’s my role lately,” he said. “They know I can shoot the ball real well and they know I can make good decisions. The ball is put in my hands a lot, actually, when I go overseas.”

The game marked the first time Andre and Kaleb said they’d gotten to play organized basketball together since the 2019-20 season at Ohio State. Andre spent last season playing in Finland.

“It was super fun (to play with Kaleb),” he said. “To get to do it again is special. Hopefully we continue to get to do it.”

Kaleb finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds and was 8 for 15 from the floor (and 2 for 6 from 3-point range) in his league debut this summer. Andre added 12 points and eight rebounds but was just 1 for 8 from deep.

It felt like old times even if Kaleb’s physique bears little resemblance to the person he once was.

“I look at pictures of my junior year in high school like, ‘Who is that guy? What even happened? What (did) that journey look like?’ ” he said. “I just thank my parents. They helped me a lot during that time, keeping things in the house I could eat.”

With experience in three countries, Kaleb said he’s exploring all options this summer for the upcoming season.

“I’m definitely still trying to go overseas and explore my options, even in the NBA if there’s a roster spot or G League spot open up,” he said. “I’m open to all that.”

Jared Sullinger teams with Evan Ravenel, puts on show for family

As a former first-round NBA draft pick and a two-time first-team All-American, Jared Sullinger has the capacity to dominate just about every Kingdom Summer League game in which he participates.

Sunday was one of those games. Sullinger finished with 35 points in front of a sizeable personal crowd, and the former Buckeye said felt it coming.

“I just fit in where I need to be,” he said. “Today, I kind of knew I was gonna have a performance like that because I have my whole family over there. It was an emotional experience having them watch me play, since it’s been about 5-6 years since they last did that. Then having my kids here, I kind of had a feeling I was gonna do that.

“As a kid, I kind of took it for granted. Now, going overseas, playing in China, you take stuff like this and hold onto it.”

Sullinger steadily increased his production as the game progressed, and he provided plenty of highlights along the way. He closed the first half with a 3-pointer from the left corner at the buzzer, swished a pair of tightly contested 3s during the second half and converted a fadeaway, baseline jumper while being fouled.

None of those were Sullinger’s favorite moments of the game, however.

“My favorite shots is always when I use my left hand, because everyone says I don’t have a left hand and then when I use it, it looks normal,” he said. “It looks silky smooth. I just love doing that.”

In all, Sullinger had roughly 20 family members in attendance. Included in that total was fellow former Ohio State big man Evan Ravenel, who suited up for the first time this season and scored six points.

“If there’s anyone I know how to play with, it’s Sully,” Ravenel said. “When we go overseas we don’t get these opportunities. Even in Columbus, I really don’t like playing on his team because you don’t get to match up with anybody who’s as good, but it’s fun because we know how to play off of each other.”

That included a late lob that could’ve helped seal what would be a 91-89 win for their team. Instead, Ravenel came up a little short in his dunk attempt off a Sullinger pass.

“One good thing about Sully: he might bring it up randomly if we’re playing cards one night but the good thing is the next time we play and I point for it, he’ll throw it again,” Ravenel said.

Ravenel said he’s signed to return to Japan for the upcoming season while Sullinger said he’ll be going back to China. Sunday, they suited up with a third former Buckeye: Keyshawn Woods, who had 11 points and was 3 for 4 from 3-point range but deferred to Sullinger as the game stretched on.

After the game, all three hung out in the bleachers as the next one got underway. Ravenel is Godfather to one of Sullinger’s three children. Sullinger left Ohio State following the 2012 season. Ravenel exhausted his eligibility one year later. Woods spent one season with the Buckeyes in 2018-19, helping them reach the NCAA Tournament in the process.

Their common bond is Ohio State, and it’s a strong one.

“It’s never better, playing in front of your family, man,” Sullinger said. “Rav is included. That’s been my best friend since I stepped foot on campus at Ohio State. He’s family. Always will be. Keyshawn Woods as well.”

Felix Okpara shoots from deep as Bowen Hardman makes debut

A pair of Ohio State freshmen each showed something new in Sunday’s nightcap.

Center Felix Okpara took five of his 13 field-goal attempts from 3-point range for team Future Athletics while classmate Bowen Hardman made his summer league debut on team Reitano Sports Center. The 6-11 Okpara went home with the win despite coming up empty on all five 3s while Hardman went scoreless on two field-goal attempts in limited minutes.

Both viewed the day as a stepping stone for bigger things to come.

“It’s my first game getting out there,” said Hardman, who missed most of his senior season at Cincinnati Princeton while dealing with a leg injury. “A lot of teams are already put together, so as many minutes as I can, just get out there and try to do the best I can whether that’s passing the ball, rebounding.”

Hardman’s first shot was a floater that actually wedged itself between the backboard and rim. Known for his 3-point shooting, Hardman was asked when he’d last had a shot get stuck like that.

“I can’t tell you,” he said. “Probably middle school, yeah. It happens. I only took, what, two shots in that game? Guys on my team were on fire so there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Okpara, meanwhile, finished with 18 points and was 6 for 8 from inside the arc while pulling down eight rebounds, blocking three shots and altering seven others.

“I just came in today to have fun, play free,” he said. “That’s the main point. If you play free, you’re going to build more confidence in the game. I stop thinking about other stuff like if I’m gonna miss a layup or I’m going to miss a shot. Just play free and have fun. That really helps me build my confidence in a game and makes me a better player.”

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Adding an outside shot to his game has been something Okpara said he’s been working on since high school. Since his arrival at Ohio State, Okpara said he’s been shooting with assistant coach Jack Owens.

“I feel like it can translate to the college game,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working on it. It’s been a real big improvement of mine and a big addition to my game. On top of being a shot blocker or post player, I can step outside too and affect the game offensively.”

That shot-blocking ability is something Hardman said he’s experienced firsthand.

“It’s definitely a challenge, especially with his length, being able to block shots and contest,” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge, I’ll say that.”

That’s been on par with his early Ohio State experience, he said. While he’s leaned on third-year players Zed Key and Gene Brown III for advice while trying to acclimate to the level of play.

“They’ve definitely been tough,” he said when asked about his first weeks on campus. “Workouts are a lot faster paced. The weight room’s huge. That’s a big part. That’s probably the toughest part so far. It’s definitely been really cool so far, being able to be around the guys, seeing different guys do different jobs, play their roles, has been huge.”

As he works to improve his overall offensive game, Okpara said he’s aiming to make a mark on the defensive end.

“If they have a really, really good rim protector it’s going to be really, really good and is going to be a real good addition to the team,” he said. “Last year they had E.J. blocking the shots. I feel like they lost E.J. and they got me and I feel I can really, really help defensively.”

As Kaleb Wesson surges, Kalen Etzler suffers through rough game

The Wessons weren’t the only Buckeyes on Flee Kicks. Freshman walk-on guard Colby Baumann had 5 points and redshirt freshman forward Kalen Etzler finished with 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting.

As Kaleb dominated a lot of the offense, Etzler said he looked for other ways to contribute.

“We had four good games in a row,” he said. “We stayed undefeated this whole time. I came out and I don’t know what was really wrong. I’m not really mad (about how I played) offensively at all. I tried to crash the boards and I know I’m not always going to get the ball. I tried to find other ways and the ball just wasn’t coming off the rim my way.”

It was at the other end of the court where Etzler was most critical of himself.

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“On defense, I’ve just got to play better defense,” he said. “Bottom line. I was getting scored on too much downhill. That’s just going to be a big learning game right there. It won’t happen again.”

This is the second consecutive summer in which Etzler has been teammates with Andre Wesson. Last year, the former Buckeye said he was excited for Etzler’s future and predicted big things from the forward.

This performance didn’t change Wesson’s feelings on Etzler.

“He’s definitely improved,” he said. “I like how he’s gotten a little stronger. I can tell he put on a little weight. He looks good. He’s just got to play with more confidence and he’ll be fine. He’s a great player. He has all the tools. He can score at multiple levels. Just confidence with him and he’ll be special.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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