Former Ohio State center Kaleb Wesson finds himself in a peculiar position this summer. He is an NBA prospect who is widely projected to go somewhere in the second round. He’s hired an agent who is not certified with the NCAA, which all but squashes the question of if he will return to the Buckeyes for his senior year— he is not. There’s plenty of game film on Wesson for scouts to evaluate, as he played in 96 games during his three seasons in Columbus, starting 92 of them.
However, the typical events leading up to the draft, including the combine, interviews, and private workouts, may not happen this year. On top of that, a player’s performance in the NCAA Tournament is sometimes the cherry on top of a player’s recruiting profile, but there was no tournament this year, either.
These opportunities are even more crucial for a player like Wesson who, by all accounts, underwent a huge transformation between his sophomore and junior seasons. He improved his ball handling. He stepped up his conditioning, as he no longer lagged behind on fast break opportunities and other plays of the sort. He improved his 3-point percentage to 42.5 percent, which was one of the best in the nation and up roughly eight percent from the previous year. Most importantly, he lost 35 pounds, weighing in at 255 at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season.
Wesson needs scouts to see how he plays now, not the past. Ideally, scouts will toss out the film of 290-pound Wesson, and focus on his current skill set, because that’s what NBA teams will get in the upcoming draft if they choose him. The issue is, there’s so much less to go off of this year because of the coronavirus-related cancellations.
As it stands now, there will not be an NBA combine, where Wesson could show off both on-the court skills such as improved shooting, ball handling, and footwork. He will not have the opportunity to scrimmage other players invited to the combine, to show how he would stack up against other NBA-caliber bigs. And he won’t have the chance to work out privately for NBA teams, creating relationships with execs and coaches.
Few, if any, players are feeling the heat more than Wesson following the cancellation of all the activities surrounding the draft. But the TBT tournament may be his saving grace.
B1G ROSTER ADDITION! @Elite_Hooper99 signs with Big X. ⚔️— Big X (@BigX_tbt) May 28, 2020
Wesson spent three seasons with @ohiostatehoops before declaring for the 2020 NBA draft. He’ll join his brother, Andre, and his three former teammates, Jackson, Dakich and Woods, on our squad this summer. #BigX pic.twitter.com/ndORs42WHQ
A few weeks ago, Wesson announced that he plans on participating in the annual winner-take-all tournament, alongside his brother Andre and several other Ohio State alumni on the Big X team. Andrew Dakich, Keyshawn Woods, both Wessons, and CJ Jackson are on the squad, as well as other former Big Ten players including Michigan State’s Nick Ward and Wisconsin’s Khalil Iverson.
ALERT : Big X (@BigX_tbt) signs NBA Draft prospect Kaleb Wesson for TBT 2020!— TBT (@thetournament) May 28, 2020
He's the team's fifth OSU alum, joining his brother Andre, Andrew Dakich, C.J. Jackson, and Keyshawn Woods. pic.twitter.com/IplvtiKmee
While they are not the favorites to win TBT (that title probably belongs to the defending champions, Carmen’s Crew), Big X has the talent to make a run in the 24-team, single elimination tournament that will run from July 4-14 at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus. TBT traditionally includes 64 teams, but due to restrictions caused by COVID-19, it will be cut down to 24.
While the bracket is not yet official, Big X seems to be as much a lock as anybody else due to their previous participation (and success) in the tournament, as well as the plethora of Big Ten talent that is sprinkled on the roster. Ward and Wesson are one of the better post combos that will be featured in the tournament, while former Ohio State guards Jackson and Woods provide backcourt depth and a familiarity with the tournament, having both played for Big X last summer.
TBT will be broadcast on ESPN, and with sports essentially dormant for the past four months, the ratings for this summer’s TBT figure to be through the roof. Sports fans nationwide will be tuned in to watch the first live basketball in four months, as will coaches and scouts. NBA personnel will have an opportunity to watch Wesson compete against players with both college and professional experience. He’ll have the chance to showcase his entire toolbox in live action, something that is not going to happen at the combine this summer.
How Wesson fares in the TBT tournament could say a lot about where he stands in the eyes of NBA franchises who are considering taking him. If he is able to take advantage of older players who play overseas or in the NBA’s G-League, it will reflect well on him and could potentially improve his stock for the draft. If those same older players, like former Ohio State center Dallas Lauderale and former South Dakota State big man Mike Daum, give Wesson trouble, his draft stock could fall a bit.
More than anything, TBT gives Wesson a chance to show that the 2017-2018 version of himself, baby fat and all, is long gone. The new Kaleb Wesson can step out and knock down a triple, or use graceful footwork to dice you up in the lane to score. This new and improved Wesson fits the mold of a current NBA big much better, and with a good showing could find himself putting on a team’s hat on draft day.
While there are obviously more pros than cons for Wesson playing in TBT, it would be remiss of me to not point out the potential risks. If he gets injured in the TBT tournament, the likelihood of his getting drafted will plummet. Few teams will draft a borderline-prospect who is injured. A healthy Wesson has a chance to get drafted, but he is not a lock. If he is injured, that likelihood would sink to almost zero.
Additionally, if Wesson has a poor showing in the TBT tournament, it would equate to having a poor showing in an NBA combine scrimmage. If some of the deficiencies that sometimes reared their head at Ohio State (lack of strength in the paint, senseless fouls, etc.) show up in TBT, it could signal that perhaps he has not improved in some of those crucial areas. Basically, if Kaleb Wesson gets exposed by Evan Ravenel in this tournament, how would anyone expect him to succeed in the NBA against the best in the world?
(No offense, Evan. We still love you)
Overall, the reward does seem to outweigh the risk. Few, if any, other NBA draft applicants are furthering their draft resume by playing in TBT like Wesson has chosen to do. And if nothing else, we’ll get to see Andre and Kaleb Wesson on the court together one final time.
Welcome to The Basketball Tournament.