NORTH CANTON For Division II and III college basketball teams, success often hinges on getting top local talent to stay close to home.
The Walsh Cavaliers are a team stocked with Ohio players, but a trio of freshmen guards had an especially short journey to campus. Conner Wess (Coventry), Chandler Vaudrin (Lake) and Mark Mokros (Canton Central Catholic) are all members of the newest recruiting class to arrive on the Walsh campus and, while their roles are varied in terms of playing time, they’re excited about their future with the Cavaliers.
“It’s great … I knew who both of them were before coming here,” Wess said. “We recognized each other as soon as we got on campus.”
Vaudrin has carved out the biggest role among the freshman trio, starting 11 of Walsh’s 13 games, but Wess has appeared in all 13 contests, averaging 12 minutes per game. He credited head coach Jeff Young and his staff with helping him get acclimated to the college level.
When playing with his new team during the summer, Wess admitted to being overwhelmed by the speed and athleticism of the college game. Senior guard Zac Carter, the team’s leading scorer, wasn’t on campus at the time, so Wess wasn’t able to learn from him.
During summer workouts, he asked plenty of questions of the coaching staff in an effort to understand his role and how to adjust to college basketball. After starting most of his career at Coventry, going back to the bottom of the ladder in terms of playing time wasn’t easy, but the experience compelled Wess to draw upon his high school experience.
“It’s always a struggle to go back down, but I love being in that spot where I’ve got to prove myself again,” Wess said. “It reminds me of going from being a little freshman at Coventry to becoming a starter and now I’m in that same spot again.”
Part of the coaching staff’s efforts with freshmen is to keep them engaged and confident in their ability to contribute when called upon and after the speed of the college game hit him ‘like a wrecking ball,” Wess had to work his way back to comfortability on the court.
All of that work has seemingly paid off, as has averages the most minutes of any player on the roster who has come exclusively off the bench this season. So far, Wess’ primary role has been as an outside shooter. Of his 33 field goal attempts, 31 have come from beyond the arc. His 45.2-percent conversion rate from deep is impressive and bolsters the scoring punch of the Cavaliers’ second unit.
Away from the court, classes and study time offer their own challenges. After starting as a dual major between education and physical therapy, Wess is leaning toward education as his sole major. Although his father, longtime Coventry and Tuslaw coach Lynn Wess, is a teacher, Conner says his father never tried to persuade him to pursue teaching.
His eventual goal is to become a high school math teacher and getting there will mean balancing basketball and school for the next four years. Doing so while taking long bus trips to road games in Pittsburgh, Michigan and the far corners of Ohio is much tougher than high school, where road trips were typically bus rides of 45 minutes or less to Norton, Woodridge, Springfield or Cloverleaf.
“It’s definitely a challenge … you’ve got to keep up on your grades and the coaches remind you of that,” Wess said. “My laptop is saving my life academically because I didn’t have that in high school, but with a laptop you can do your homework anywhere.”
It’s all part of life on a team that has designs on winning a Great Midwest Athletic Conference title and an NCAA tournament appearance. Each win, Wess noted, gives a team a push of confidence into their next contest and with conference play heating up, the Cavaliers stand at 3-4 in G-MAC play and will need to get on a run if they hope to extend their campaign deep into the postseason.
For Wess, Vaudrin and Mokros, it’s the first stage of what they believe will be a memorable run together.
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