Mark Znidar
Mark Znidar

Mark Znidar comes to Press Pros Magazine after 33 ½ years at The Columbus Dispatch. From 1996 until September 2018, he staffed high school sports, Ohio colleges that included the Mid-American Conference, Ohio State’s upcoming opponents in football and Ohio State baseball. In the previous three seasons he covered the Columbus Clippers triple-A baseball team. His other beats were Ohio State basketball (1985-88), Clippers (1985-86 and 1989-93), Cincinnati Bengals (1993-95) and NASCAR (1994-2008). He subbed on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ohio State women’s basketball beats. In March 2017, Znidar was inducted into the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.  Znidar was born in Cleveland and raised in Richmond Heights. He graduated from Cleveland St. Joseph High School and the University of Dayton. He also worked for The Atlantic City Press, Lake County News-Herald and Baltimore News-American. He has a daughter, Amanda, son-in-law Josh and four grandchildren.

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The Buckeyes’ junior center has lost 34 pounds by cutting carbohydrates and sugar from his diet and running in practices.  Coach Chris Holtmann likes what he sees…so far.

Columbus – Ohio State basketball players walked down a long hallway toward their practice gym on Tuesday at Value City Arena, and about 15 to 18 media carrying notepads, television cameras, recorders and microphones gave them the once over as if it were a runway at a fashion show.

The four freshmen drew a lot of eyeballs. Ibrahima Diallo of Senegal looked every inch of the 6 feet 10 he’s listed. E.J. Liddell appeared closer to 6-6 than the 6-7 recruiting services had him, but he’s burly. D.J. Carton is so well put together that it seemed he could takes handoffs at football practice across the street.

Veteran columnist Mark Znidar writes the Buckeyes for Press Pros Magazine.com.

And Alonzo Gaffney, who’s in the books at 6-9, 198, needed a double cheeseburger with the works, large bag of fries and a shake to get him a little closer to two bills.

But the player everyone really wanted to check out was 6-foot-9 junior center Kaleb Wesson after third-year coach Chris Holtmann talked about how he had reshaped his body during the summer.

Wesson wore his usual No. 34 uniform, but this time it was loose like drapery. The pudgy face – you can see his cheekbones – his midriff and butt have shrunk.

“My dad told me I look like two different people,’’ he said. “It’s always steps to go where I want to go. Now it’s just maintaining my weight. I’m always trying to get better.’’

For the record, Wesson said the scale read 255 pounds yesterday. He finished last season at 289.

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Wesson was far from being a sloth last season. He led the Buckeyes in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (6.9), shot 50 percent from the floor and 73.4 percent from the free throw line and knocked down 26 three-pointers.

Quickness and hops, though, were not his forte. He was called for 103 fouls, fouled out of five games and averaged almost 3.2 personals.

How did he firm up?

Part of it was Wesson learning how to eat differently.

“I cut out the carbs,’’ he said. “That list is too long (on foods he misses).’’

It also was strength and conditioning coach Quadrian Banks setting up a program and having him stick to it.

How did he do it?  “A lot of running – running between my workouts, running during my workouts, and more running.”  – Kaleb Wesson

“A lot of running – running between my workouts, running during my workouts and more running,’’ he said. “(Banks) would have me run sprints, shoot free throws, run sprints and shoot more free throws. It’s definitely two different people. I’m jumping higher and I’m able to stay on the floor longer.’’

Brother Andre Wesson, a senior co-captain, said what really got Kaleb to buckle down was NBA people telling him where he was basketball-wise, and physically where he needed to go to play for pay.

Kaleb entered the draft portal not thinking he’d get drafted, but to see how he stacked up.

“I definitely think that him testing the NBA waters and hearing what NBA executives had to say helped him a lot,’’ Andre Wesson said. “That opened his eyes even more that he’s close (to being a professional). He took the feedback and ran with it. Seeing him change his diet has been impressive. He definitely hasn’t lost any strength. He is just moving better and jumping better. I’m excited to see him play. His body has changed.’’

Holtmann might be showing his hand with regard to Wesson leaving a year early for the NBA,  getting verbal commitments from two high school seniors, Eugene Brown and Zed Key, when he has only one scholarship to offer.

Wesson was one of the better big men in the Big Ten last season, and there is no better professional breeding ground for centers and power forwards than this conference.

What exactly did NBA people say?

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“They told me they wanted to see me at a lighter weight, but that’s what I’ve heard my whole career,’’ he said. “I was told how much my entire game has to change. There was a little feedback here and there. They want to see me finish better and rebound better.’’

The Buckeyes might not have had this much talent since Thad Matta’s better days as coach, but there’s no question Wesson is the key man.

When he was suspended three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules, the team lost consecutive games to Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin. When he returned, the team defeated Indiana in the first round of the conference tournament to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament and then took down Iowa State in the first round.

“Oh, yeah, he has worked really hard and I’m excited for him,’’ junior forward Kyle Young said. “He’s the same skilled guy, for sure, but I can tell you that he’s going to be better. He can move better. This will help him a little more getting his body right.’’

Sophomore guard Duane Washington laughed when a reporter called Wesson “the incredible shrinking man.’’

“That’s good – that’s really good,’’ he said. “Kaleb looks really good – super, super good. He has been working his tail off. I’ve seen it every day. He’s going hard. He’s feeling good. He’s doing a great job. I’m excited for him.’’

Holtmann said there were signs last season that Wesson was committed to body sculpting in that he had more stamina at the end than as a freshman.

“Kaleb looks great – he looks great,’’ he said. “He has really worked hard at it. He has shown tremendous discipline in terms of what he wanted his body to look like. The challenge for him will be to continue to move in that direction as we go through the season.’’

BACK INJURY LIMITS AHRENS

“I think I’m versatile, and being a sophomore I’m going to feel more comfortable out there.”  – Justin Ahrens

Sophomore guard-forward Justin Ahrens of Versailles won’t be on the floor when the Buckeyes begin preseason practice on Thursday in recovering from two herniated discs in his back.

The injury didn’t result from a dunk gone bad or helping friends move into their apartments on campus.

“I was dead-lifting and had a bad rep,’’ Ahrens said. “I thought I had a back strain and practiced the next day. Then my leg was tingling and I said that this wasn’t right. I had it checked out. There are still aches and pains here and there, but it’s a lot better. I started working out four or five weeks ago and got my weight back and got healthy. I feel good getting strength in my legs.’’

Holding him out of practice is precautionary in that trainers and coaches don’t want Ahrens to have a setback.

It figures that he’ll get a much larger role this season. As a freshman, he played in 25 games, starting four, and averaged 9.6 minutes. His 29-point game in an upset of Iowa went a long way in getting the Buckeyes into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team.

What about this season?

“We’ve got a really deep squad,’’ he said. “A lot of guys can put the ball in the hoop and defend. We’re just excited to get to work – get to practice – this week. My goals? As always, it’s to help my team win as much as possible whether it’s shooting the ball, defending, getting a steal. I think I’m versatile and being a sophomore I am going to feel more comfortable out there.

“One thing I have been working on is my explosiveness and quickness. It’s coming back. Hopefully I’ll come back faster and can jump higher and be more flexible than last year. We all have to punch our ticket every day in practice. If we come to work every day, there is no ceiling for us.’’

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