NORTH CANTON Between a college basketball player’s freshman and sophomore seasons is often a time to make a big jump, both in terms of quality of play and playing time. After absorbing the faster speed and all that comes with adjusting to facing bigger, stronger and better players at the college level, an athlete can go to work in the offseason and build up both their body and their game before their second year of college hoops.
Walsh sophomore guard Conner Wess is one player who has been able to grow his team from his first to second season of college basketball and the former Coventry standout believes making the most of his offseason is to credit for breaking into the starting lineup and more than doubling his scoring average.
"I’m always improving on my shot all the time and one thing coach (Jeff Young) emphasizes to me is to be a shooter," Wess said. "I really worked on that and my defense in my offseason workouts, and getting my body stronger."
While Wess insists breaking into the starting lineup this season wasn’t a specific goal, the fact that he started nine of the first 14 games for the Cavaliers is a welcome sign because it means he’s making strides toward his goal of being the best player he can be.
"As long as I’m playing well and helping us win games, I don’t mind if I’m starting or coming off the bench," Wess said.
Part of his offensive success this season has come from attacking the basket more, something he’s able to do with the improved strength from the offseason workouts in which he and his teammates invested a lot of hours. Still, his mina focus is helping space the floor with his outside shooting and with a 37.7 percentage from 3-point range, Wess is largely succeeding in that goal.
His scoring average of 8.7 points per game is up significantly from the 3.3 per contest he averaged last season and doing it as a part of a winning team makes it all the more satisfying. Wess credited the team’s playmakers with doing a good job of keeping the offense rolling and said that his own understanding of the college game has grown and benefited him in his sophomore season.
"I was pretty blindsided when I came in as a freshman. I didn’t know the speed of the game, which is why it’s impressive to see (freshman guard) Darryl Straughter (Canton McKinley) come in and play as well as he has."
Wess also has a touch of home with him both on and off the court at Walsh. His father, longtime high school coach Lynn Wess, is a regular at his son’s games and the two always talk afterward, when Conner asks what Lynn saw in the game and what he could work on.
Away from the floor, Wess lives with one of his former Coventry teammates, Shane Sturm, with whom he won two Portage Trail Conference titles in high school. Another of their former teammates, Bryce Hargrove, isn’t far away playing football at the University of Pittsburgh, where he’s added nearly 50 pounds to his frame and is hoping to challenge for a starting spot on the offensive line this fall.
The trio stay in touch and Wess also plays with another local product, former Lake star Chandler Vaudrin, on the court. Vaudrin became a starter last season and Wess has enjoyed more time on the court with him in their sophomore year.
For a Walsh program that has enjoyed plenty of league and tournament success over the years, it’s exciting for Wess to be part of authoring what he hopes will be the next winning chapter in that story. With a 12-4 start to the season, the Cavaliers are well on their way to that goal.
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