Kaleb Wesson: ‘I can operate the pick-and-pop at the highest level’

Ohio State big man Kaleb Wesson has made drastic improvements to his game and to his body, which has helped him prepare him for the pros.

Wesson, who recorded the best score at the three-point star drill during the 2020 NBA draft combine, spoke to HoopsHype about training for the draft with his older brother Andre Wesson, who is also eligible to be selected. He also touched on how he dramatically improved his weight and what he learned from former first-round pick Jared Sullinger. Make sure to read until the end to learn about his favorite taco recipe as well.

Please note this interview was very minorly edited for brevity and clarity.

When you’re talking to NBA teams, what are some of the things you want them to know?

Kaleb Wesson: I’m just telling them that I’m a hard worker. There are a lot of guys who go into the league and that first year, they think they made it. But if you’ve seen my career, you’ve seen that I’ve had to grind for almost everything I’ve accomplished. I had to go from 325 pounds to get to 285 pounds to even get a chance to play for Ohio State. You saw that I had to drop even more weight to play at the high level that I play at now. You saw that I to increase my three-point shooting percentage to get where I am now, too. You can just see that I’ am a hard worker. You also see the leadership. That’s big. For example, if you are not playing at the NBA level and they have you in the G League, are you just going to shut down because you think you’re better than somebody else and just pout? Or are you going to work harder? Are you going to have the self-awareness to know you have to get better and then actually do it?

Speaking of which, what are you doing to get yourself in the best shape right now?

KW: Right now, the biggest thing for me is my body. I’m just making sure my body is in the right place. That is what everybody tells me is holding me back. I’ve heard that since I got to Ohio State. My goal is 255 pounds and 10% body fat. I’m slowly getting there. It’s just about eating a lot of the right things and working with a nutritionist. It has been helpful to have somebody who can help me make my plate and we even have pre-made meals that are really good that they send us. It has everything that we need including protein shakes and stuff like that. I’m dropping weight but I also want to keep that muscle on. So when I’m home, I’m doing push-ups and sit-ups and stuff like that just to make everything stable.

How would you describe your game to someone who has not seen you play before?

KW: I feel like my game is kind of like Al Horford and Nikola Jokic. I am somebody who can initiate offense and I can play in those pick-and-pop, short-roll situations where I’m reading a defense. I know where the guy is in the corner while somebody is cutting. I make those decisions in quick seconds. I did that a lot at Ohio State. I always had the ball in my hands. I averaged almost three assists a game at Ohio State. I don’t think a lot of guys of my height were doing that in college. I know when to shoot the ball and when to pass it. I know when to get quick and swing it fast so the defense keeps moving. I feel I do all of that at a high level.

What aspects of your game do you think will surprise teams?

KW: I feel like teams are going to be impressed with my entire game, including the way I handle the ball along the perimeter, how I initiate the offense, how I handle dribble hand-offs and ball screens, my ability to pass the ball, my ability to read the game. I feel like my basketball IQ is actually something that I don’t get enough credit for so far. I feel like it also impacts me on the defensive end. I am able to force a guy a way he doesn’t want to go, knowing the way he’s going to pull up. I know if he’s right-handed he has to come back to his right hand to shoot the ball.

Every year you improved your output and your efficiency on 3-pointers. When you see both of those things, that says a lot about the work ethic you have. Can you walk me through the evolution of your jump shot?

KW: My dad taught me a lot of fundamentals like the Mikan drill. That helped with my touch around the rim. I feel like I just took that to mid-range. Then our coach told me I could shoot 3-pointers during my freshman year. Going from my freshman year to sophomore year, our coach told me he wanted me to shoot three-pointers. As a big man who spent his whole life on the block, I was like: ‘Why? I feel like I’m doing well on the block.’ The game is transitioning. I’m realizing that. There are a lot of lanky guys who are shooting three-pointers, setting screens, running to the rim. You are either an athletic guy or you are a three-point shooter. I’m not as much of an athletic guy, so I had to pick up three-point shooting. Going into my junior year, our coach told me he wants me to shoot at least three 3-pointers.

How do you think your abilities in the pick and pop are going to translate to the next level?

KW: I have the ability to run the pick-and-pop at the highest level is irreplaceable. That was the result of several role changes at Ohio State. During my first year, I was the third or fourth option on the floor. So rolling to the basket was opening things for my team. Something I noticed is that by this year, teams would just switch on the pick-and-pop. They put a smaller guy on me and then switched back with a forward when I rolled down to the post. But I’ll be able to read situations like that and counter it by keeping them on my backside while I’m rolling. I feel like being able to adapt to a different role is something that I have shown during my career. I feel like that is one of the reasons my coaches asked me to do that at Ohio State. They saw that I have the footwork, hands and everything like that. But they also wanted to show people that I could shoot the ball from the perimeter and that I have really good touch and that I can initiate offense from the perimeter as well.

One thing that stands out about your game is your defensive rebound percentage, which was one of the best in the nation. How’d you become a tenacious rebounder and how did you find that impacted your team?

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KW: I feel what really helped my rebounding over the past year was the weight loss. I was able to rebound outside my area and not being as tired. Not just boxing my guy out and letting somebody else rebound it, but doing both. I feel like the weight loss helped a lot with my rebounding.

Ohio State had a Top 20 offense and a Top 20 defense, which is a good credit for you as a team leader. How were you able to balance success on both sides of the ball?

KW: I’m glad you say that because other people don’t give me as much credit as a defender. The misconception of a big guy is that he is not able to move his feet. I did some things this year, like boxing, to make my feet even better. But, as you said, it speaks a lot to my leadership. A leader sets the tone for what the game is going to look like. That speaks to the older guys on our team. I feel like that was our identity: work hard, put your head down, grind it out. Be happy about your results at the end of the day.

How have you been able to reconcile with last season being cut short before March Madness, especially considering Ohio State was a Top 10 team in the country?

KW: I don’t know if there is anything that will make me feel comfortable about that. I feel like missing out on a chance to play for the national championship is huge. That could have been our legacy. But I am just keeping my head down and working hard. I’m making sure that the next opportunity is one where I can make the most out of it. The game can go away in the instant. We were supposed to play the next day and we woke up and the last season with my brother, not knowing if we’d play together again, was over. That’s something that you can’t get back. It hurt.

When you look back at your time at Ohio State, what are some of the things you’re most proud of from that stage in your career?

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KW: The first thing was being a captain my junior season. That was something that was big for me coming off my sophomore year and that suspension. There are a lot of cases where guys don’t come back from stuff like that, as far as their team goes. They do not become team captains, people look down upon them, stuff like that. But I feel like my teammates knew that I really bought in and really wanted to be a part of the team. Doing that was a big accomplishment for me, getting all of the trust back from my teammates and my coaches.

You mention that suspension. What was your internal dialogue like to come back from that?

KW: I feel like it just showed my resilience and how hard I work. My teammates saw that and they respected that. I feel like that’s what kind of gained my trust from them. They saw that I was bought in more than I was before. They saw that I wasn’t going to go back to the same old habits I was doing and stuff like that. It shows I’ve turned around.

Out of curiosity, have you had the chance to talk to Jared Sullinger much?

KW: Yeah! Jared Sullinger has been my mentor ever since I got to Ohio State. Even before that, I was watching him play at Ohio State and then go to the pros. He saw some of my games when I was growing up. He has told me about the NBA game and how it is a business and what you have to do to get better. He has had similar adversities with his weight and how he got let out of the league and had to go overseas and play. He told me he doesn’t want to see that for me. That’s big. He treats me like family.

Your dad also played basketball at Ohio State. What advice has he given you throughout this process? 

KW: He is telling us to keep our heads down and grind it out; control what you can control. We can’t control what the NBA is going to look like or if there is going to be a G League season. He is just telling us to work hard. You don’t have to get ready if you’re ready.

When you say us, I know that it is because you and your brother are both eligible for the 2020 NBA draft. How have you guys been able to help each other through this pre-draft process?

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KW: It’s just like how it has always been our whole life. Andre and I are so competitive with each other. Anything we do, we’re going to compete at it. If he has a workout before I do or if I have a workout before he does, we’re going to see who shoots better in the workout. We’re going to ask the trainer who’s shooting better. That really helps us, as far as our competitive edge. But we’ve been getting some runs together. I want NBA teams to look more into my brother, actually. I feel like he doesn’t get the credit he deserves as he is somebody who guards one through four. He was shooting 3-pointers while defending at a high level, guarding the best player on the other team every game.

What have your workouts been like with him over the past several months?

KW: The biggest problem for me was during the first couple of months when everything was shut down and you couldn’t go to a gym. You couldn’t go anywhere. The biggest thing for a guy like me was that I had to watch what I was eating, constantly. I was working out in my home by myself. I was doing push-ups and bodyweight work. I eventually started getting weights toward the middle of it. The blessing was signing with my agent Jelani Floyd. He got me down to Houston and got me with a team that I work out with a lot. We got a lot of good work done down in Houston.

Who are some of the guys that you were working out with?

KW: When Andre and I got here, we were working out with Baylor guard Jared Butler and some pro guys like Jae’Sean Tate, Isaiah Hartenstein and Josh Gray. We also had Robert Covington come to the gym with us before he went to the bubble. A lot of guys, so there was really good work.

What are some of your other interests outside of basketball?

KW: I actually started getting into golf. I’m actually looking for golf clubs right now. But before that, it was cooking. I like to read books a lot. Right now, I’m reading Why the Best Are the Best by Kevin Eastman. I talked to him a couple of times at different seminars and conferences that I’ve been invited to attend. I learned about his experience with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James. He has a different mindset and getting into that mindset is something that I want to do. But that’s about it: cooking, books, golf. I’ll also play against Andre in NBA 2K.

What are some of your favorite dishes that you can cook?

KW: Chicken tacos. I make a mean chicken pita taco. You got the green peppers, the onion, throw a little paprika in there. I don’t use the taco seasoning. Nah, that’s basic. You have to get the hot peppers in there. You have to cook the chicken up, get the tortillas in there, cut up a little jalapeno. Get some lettuce, tomato. You’re eating good.

What’s your favorite movie and who is your favorite musician?

KW: My favorite movie is Life (1999) with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. But my favorite artist right now? That’s a tough one. I’ll go Calboy.


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