COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After a disappointing rollercoaster of a season, Ohio State's gifted big man, Kaleb Wesson, explored the possibility of leaving school early for the NBA.
Wesson decided to stay for at least another year and see how far the Buckeyes can go with him and a nationally heralded group of freshmen this time around. And the junior from suburban Columbus got leaner and meaner, taking more than 30 pounds off his 6-foot-9 frame and building muscle. He's down to 255 and says he has more flexibility and stamina than ever.
"It's two different people," he said of the before and after.
His older brother Andre, the only scholarship senior for the No. 18 Buckeyes, certainly sees it.
"He's definitely been moving better, jumping better," Andre Wesson said. "His body has definitely changed."
The Buckeyes, ranked 18th in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, are going to need the experience and maturity provided by the brothers Wesson. Some of third-year coach Chris Holtmann's most talented players will be freshmen this season, and the team's fortunes likely will depend how quickly they can be coached up.
They include a trio of four-star prospects, including point guard D.J. Carton, who could be one of the best Ohio State players to come along in years.
Still, all the youth on the roster makes Holtmann a little anxious, especially after having to utilize true freshmen guards Luther Muhammed and Duane Washington Jr. in 34 and 35 games, respectively, last season.
"Old wins in college basketball," Holtmann said. "Mature talent wins in college basketball. By mature I'm not saying necessarily age because that's not always the case. Mature talent wins consistently at the highest level of college basketball, so it's our job to get our group mature as quickly as possible."
But there's no question the Buckeyes will have more talent than last season.
WHERE ARE THE POINTS?
Kaleb Wesson was the team's leading scorer last season, averaging 14.6 points but also frequently getting into foul trouble and showing frustration at getting double-teamed by opponents that knew slowing him down was the key to beating the Buckeyes. As far as returning scorers, Andre Wesson was next at 8.6 points, with Muhammad and Washington averaging 7.6 and 7 points, respectively.
"I think you could look at their growth as important as anything with our team right now," Holtmann said of that sophomore pair. "Are they going to learn from their freshman year where they had some really good moments and moments where they struggled?"
MEET THE NEW GUYS
Besides Carton, four-star freshmen E.J. Liddell and Alonzo Gaffney will need to play significant roles, Liddell, a 6-foot-6 forward, was a two-time Mr. Basketball in Illinois. Gaffney, a 6-foot-9 Cleveland native, turned down scores of offers from other big schools to play at Ohio State. At 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds, Ibrahima Diallo will be another much-needed big man inside. A native of Senegal, he played prep school basketball in California. Carton and CJ Walker, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida State, will be the point guards.
Guards C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods moved on.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Holtmann patched together undersized lineups all last season, especially after losing forward Kyle Young to a leg injury. That left Kaleb Wesson as the only true post player on the roster, and it showed as the Buckeyes dropped five in a row and six of their first seven conference games after the calendar flipped over to 2019. They finished 20-15 (8-12 in the Big Ten), won a game in the conference tournament and another in the NCAA Tournament before being flattened by Houston in the round of 32. Young is healthy now and expected to play a big role.
Guard Musa Jallow is out indefinitely after arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle. Carton sprained his ankle in a scrimmage but is expected to be OK.
The Buckeyes open Nov. 6 at home against Cincinnati. The first big test will be against No. 10 Villanova on Nov. 13. And they'll be challenged in December with matchups against No. 9 North Carolina, Penn State, Minnesota and No. 2 Kentucky.
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