Evan Wessel misses playing football, no doubt. He had a chance to go to Kansas and strap on a helmet and pads, but the former Heights High two-sport All-State standout chose Wichita State and basketball, instead.
Still, hes the closest thing to a football player on the WSU campus.
Rugged, tireless, aggressive and just a tad mean, Wessel brings a football mentality to the basketball floor. He does the dirty work that coaches appreciate and thats why the 6-foot-5 Wessel is pushing and shoving literally, almost his way into a potential starting spot for the Shockers, who dont open the regular season for a couple of weeks but have an exhibition game against Pittsburg State on Nov. 5.
This is the same Wessel in name, at least who got into only 13 games as a freshman last season. So he spent the spring and summer bulking up, refining his skills and promising himself he wasnt going to let up for even a second in his quest to be a difference-maker for the Shockers.
He really plays hard, hes very coachable and very smart, WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. Hes very similar to (former Shocker) Graham Hatch in his physicality, determination, strength and how hard he plays.
Players like Hatch and Wessel take time to grow on a coach. Neither oozes basketball skills, necessarily, but they make up for what they lack in talent with an insatiable desire to fill in the blanks.
Wessel, for instance, loves to chase offensive rebounds from the perimeter. Can you imagine? He relishes contact with bigger and taller frontcourt players and takes pride in out-foxing them for a rebound.
And if theres one thing he loves more than rebounding, its laying out on the floor for a loose ball. He talks about things like extra possessions for his team, words that make Marshall smile from one ear to the other.
Every possession you get, theyre key, Wessel said.
He wont be happy until hes an outstanding defensive player. Hes already really good, but unsatisfied.
Yes, thats Marshall smiling again.
Evans a really scrappy player, Wichita State senior guard Demetric Williams said. When youre going against him, hes going to be right there on your hip, no matter what.
So what if Wessel doesnt shoot it like Joe Ragland. Few do. And Wessel will surprise you with his offense.
Hell jump up and knock it down, Marshall said. Hell also miss one badly from time to time, but then hell come back down and make the next two. I really havent figured that out yet.
Its focus and determination and Wessel has an abundance of both.
He has that mop top of curly hair and what looks like a gangly body until you get up close, so the tendency is to underestimate Wessels athleticism. Big mistake. He could probably be in a Big 12 defensive backfield if he had so chosen and wont embarrass himself anywhere on a basketball floor, from point guard to center.
For the Shockers, hes settled in at the small forward spot. And its OK to start finding pity for the other small forwards in the Missouri Valley Conference who will soon feel the wrath of Wessels all-out style of play.
Were usually on the same team when we practice and thats good, WSU red-shirt freshman Ron Baker said. You know Evans going to the glass every time on offense and hes a really tough check-out when hes on the other team. Hes going full force on every possession, every play.
Wessel was a key part of three state championship basketball teams at Heights, and one that won a football title. He has an innate ability to know just how much to contribute and just when to make those contributions. He never tries to be more than he is, except for that occasional shot that clanks against the rim or the backboard and makes you wonder what he was thinking.
But, like Marshall said, Wessel will come back down the floor and make the next one.
Youve got to forget about the bad stuff and focus on the positives, Wessel said. Ive been working on my jump shot a lot this summer, especially three-pointers. I think Ive gotten a lot better.
If Wessel adds knock-down three-point shooter to his resume, watch out.
There were times last season, Wessel admits, that doubt crept in. Thatll happen as you sit on the bench while accumulating only 99 minutes the equivalent of 2 ½ games of playing time.
Had he made the right choice, picking basketball over football? Was he good enough to play at the Division I level? Could he hold his own?
I think everyone probably has those doubts from time to time, Wessel said. But youve got to stay through that stuff and youve got to grind. The season is a grind and you have to stay mentally tough.
Grind is a perfect word for a player like Wessel. He grinds, all right. And if youre up against Wessel, be careful. Because hell grind you up.