The first place that I ever saw the Wesson brothers play basketball was, funny enough, in the same arena that they’d be spending a lot of time in over the two years since, the Schottenstein Center, roughly 14 miles down I-71 from their high school, Westerville South. It was the OHSAA D1 championship game, against Lima Senior, led by future Michigan point guard Xavier Simpson.
It was obvious in that game that despite the fact that Kaleb Wesson was still just a junior and his older brother Andre Wesson hadn’t yet committed to Ohio State, that they were both going to be Buckeyes.
Kaleb had committed to play for the Buckeyes roughly a year earlier, while Andre wasn’t offered a scholarship until three days after this particular game was played.
From the demeanor of both brothers, to their play on the court, to the way that they lead Westerville South to the school’s first basketball title, there was just no way that the Columbus raised brothers would play their college ball anywhere but Ohio State.
Hell, it’s even in their blood. Their father Keith played for Ohio State in the 1980s, mostly as a big man off the bench. And, as every parent wants, his sons are both even better than he was. Both Andre and Kaleb lit up the high school basketball scene for four years, and garnered quite a bit of attention in the process. That state title run raised the profile of both brothers significantly, and when looking at it honestly, Andre might have never gotten that Buckeye offer had it not been for that run.
However, knowing what they accomplished in high school, the beginning of each brother’s career at Ohio State has been impressive, but still feels like there is another level to be reached for each. Kaleb was awesome as a freshman, but his struggles with foul trouble, defensive fundamentals, and conditioning held him back. Andre is entering his third year in the program, and while he started five games last year, he was mostly a reserve who saw his role increase in the second half of the season, after he shut down Purdue’s Isaac Haas in the second half of OSU’s come-from-behind win, despite the fact that Haas had about eight inches on him.
The limited roles for both will have to change this year. With Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, and Kam Williams all gone, Andre is the most experienced wing player on the 2018 team. In fact, he’s one of just five upperclassmen on the team, along with C.J. Jackson, Joey Lane, Micah Potter and Wake Forest transfer Keyshawn Woods. Three guards (one of which is a former walk-on), and a big man. Andre isn’t just the guy at small forward this year, he’s the only proven face on the entire team at the position. He came to Ohio State as a developmental prospect; it’s time for him to emerge as a significant contributor, and full-time starter.
The flashes of potential were there last year. Andre scored eight points against both Michigan and Penn State late in the season, and in addition to his defense, was a huge offensive part of Ohio State’s win over Purdue, contributing 13 points, knocking down three huge three-pointers. However, flashes of production won’t cut it this year though. Musa Jallow, Kyle Young and Justin Ahrens will be able to contribute, but Andre Wesson has to be able to score consistently this year for Ohio State to succeed.
While Andre is transforming from a role player into a full-time starter, Kaleb will be transforming from a high-potential starter as a freshman into a fully developed sophomore star. Kaleb is the most talented big man Ohio State has seen since Jared Sullinger, and it feels like only a matter of time before he puts it all together, becoming the double-double machine that Ohio State recruited him to be.
With Keita-Bates Diop gone, Ohio State will need a new offensive focal point this season. While C.J. Jackson may lead the team in scoring this year, Kaleb seems like the perfect fit to be the focal point of a Chris Holtmann offense. With plenty of shooting around him, putting the younger Wesson on the inside and running the offense through him just makes too much sense.
All of this sounds a lot like that 2016 Westerville South team. That team had lots of shooting, played through Kaleb, and was supported greatly by Andre’s consistency and excellent defense. The transition from high school to college is obviously difficult, but it feels like the Wesson brothers are ready to break through and start their reign over the Big Ten. And, this young, unproven Ohio State team will likely need them to, if they want to make it back-to-back trips to the Big Dance.
While the future for the Wesson brothers still has chapters to be written, their intertwined pasts are as fascinating of stories as I’ve heard ever heard about high basketball players, or any high school athletes to be honest. They took very different roads to get to where they are now, but they always traveled together; something that will obviously continue for at least one more season.
To get to know a little more about the Wesson brothers, I talked a little bit with the man who may know more about Ohio basketball than anyone, 270hoops co-founder Zach Fleer.
Patrick Mayhorn: Kaleb and Andre were both big parts of that 2016 title team at Westerville South, and I got to catch the championship game, but how important were they for that team?
Zach Fleer: They were critical parts to that team. It was a well oiled machine. Guys like Jordan Humphrey (state tournament MVP), Daylan Haynie, Ennis Thomas, Antoine Smith, Anthony Mills, etc were also very key components, but it started and finished with Dre and Kaleb. Andre made a rise from his junior to senior season that was remarkable. He seemed to have a maturation process that really took his game to the next level.
I remember that whole season trying to convince Ohio State to take him seriously and they finally did after he had a monster performance against Pickerington Central in January of that year when Kaleb was out with a foot injury. He nearly led Westerville South over Ibi Watson [Michigan], Sterling Manley [North Carolina], Jalen Tate [Northern Kentucky] and a young Jeremiah Francis [North Carolina] and really showed people the type of big time player he had become.
For Kaleb, he was the go-to guy in the post, and it was his passing ability that made the difference. He could get defensive rebounds and fire Kevin Love-esque outlet passes all the way down the court that really got Westerville South’s fast-paced offense going.
Kaleb was the enforcer inside that forced teams to funnel their offense elsewhere. Those guys are two of the toughest and most coachable players I’ve ever been around, and that combined with the greatness of [coach] Ed Calo made them state champions.
P.M.: With the history in their family of their dad playing at Ohio State, was there ever really any doubt where Kaleb and Andre would play, or were they always bound to be Buckeyes?
Z.F.: For Kaleb, it was a no brainer. He was offered and committed right after his sophomore season. For Andre though, it took a lot longer. He really only had mid-major offers for most of his high school career and wasn’t taken seriously by Ohio State until late in his senior season.
Many people pushed Andre to commit to Richmond or George Mason until OSU got into the picture heavily. They basically told him to go win a state title (not an easy task at all) and then they would offer him. That happened and he committed shortly thereafter. It was always the Wesson brothers’ dream to play together, but it took a lot of moving parts to actually happen.
Andre received an offer from Xavier the same time Kaleb did in 2015, but at the time, it was mainly a package deal offer in order to get Kaleb. Andre wasn’t taken fully seriously until his senior year when he outplayed a lot of the guys ranked ahead of him with better offers. He may have been lowly ranked and not as highly known as other guys in the 2016 class here, but if his college career is anything like his high school career, he’s going to continue to get better and will get the last laugh.
P.M.: With Andre stepping into a starting role, and Kaleb seeming primed to become a star, what do you think Ohio State will be getting from each brother individually this year? Do you think they’re ready to step up and serve as leaders for the team?
Z.F.: I think those guys are ready to take the next step. Andre has struggled with confidence the first two years, but I think he’s figuring it out, and will be a key part to this team. He is a very high I.Q. player, he’s tough and the ultimate team guy. You need guys like that to win, and I see Andre serving a similar role as David Lighty several years back.
For Kaleb, he’s ready to break out. Conditioning and athleticism have been his biggest hindrances, but he has committed a ton of time and effort to transform his body, and I only see him getting better from here on out.
He’s the most skilled big man I’ve ever seen in this area, has oven mitts as hands, has a soft touch from everywhere on the floor and has post work as if he was raised in the same household as Hakeem [Olajuwon].
That’s a guy who is going to really turn heads and show off what I’ve seen all along. I am so excited for those two to continue to grow together and bring their winning attitude to Ohio State.
They received tremendous coaching from coach Ed Calo at Westerville South and were both ready when they got to OSU. They come from a great and supportive family, and I just see it continuing to go up from here. I think Ohio State fans will see a new version of both of them this year. They’ve really worked hard this offseason.
I’d like to thank Zach for taking some time to talk to me about a family that he’s become very familiar with over the years. If you want to read more of his work (which you should, because he’s excellent), he can be found at 270hoops.com, and at just about every major high school basketball game in Central Ohio this season.