As winter arrives, gyms across Northeast Ohio are slowly starting to hear the chorus of balls being dribbled and sneakers squeaking on hardwood. As these young players hoop in uncertain times, one Kent State alum is trying to revolutionize how they train.
Brandon Wesig has created a product designed to help players improve their chances against rock solid defense.
The Never Ending Defender is a patented basketball training harness that simulates a defender. The harness is placed on the upper body of the user, and has an adjustable face mask that has two settings. Those settings are for shooting (close to the face) and dribbling (lower down, obscuring the floor). The harness has an almost face mask type front being in front of a shooter's face to simulate a defender’s hand. The dribbling setting simulates a defender with the face mask lowered so the user does not see the ball. This is to simulate a defender as well, but the main objective is to improve ball control.
Wesig was raised to be a hoops addict. His father was a coach, so he has been surrounded with the game his whole life. One day while practicing, Wesig wondered to himself: why is there no tool to teach players to shake off defenders?
“The idea of the business came when I was practicing one day,” Wesig said. “I thought, man, there is nothing when you’re practicing that defends you in a contested jumper that moves. There is nothing that moves with you.”
Wesig always practiced shooting with someone doing a high closeout, which is a defender with a hand in the face of the player with the ball.
In 2014, as his time at Kent State was wrapping up, he first hatched his idea in a basement with his friend. This is when he said the Never Ending Defender was born. He sat in his room one day and decided to go forward with it. He went to Michaels and bought a sketch pad and thin gage wire and got to work.
Wesig got started despite not knowing any more about business than the average person would; “about what you’d learn from Shark Tank,” he said.
“I think if you see and have a vision of your final product and you know your final product will be good, you don’t give up,” Wesig said. “Then it will succeed. Crazier stuff has succeeded. People have sold pet rocks.”
He started researching companies that help startups and set up various meetings. He eventually linked up with Design Interface in Westlake, Ohio under Adrian Slattery in May of 2019.
“The reason I selected them is because they respected me and my idea,” he said. “People who come up with crazy ideas you’re always like ‘OK, are there a few screws loose in this guy’s head?’’’
The design team appreciated what he was trying to do, but made him realize he had to compromise on some of his ideas. The initial idea was to have the mask look like a hand emulating an NBA player like Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James. Wesig said the team finally convinced him this was not feasible.
After ironing out the basic design elements with DI, Wesig moved into building prototypes, using that wire he had bought from Michaels.
The main goal of this product was to improve offensive skills in players, but in order to do that Brandon wanted to find the safest, most comfortable way for it to move around the body of a player.
But after several failed prototypes, Wesig hit a wall.
“You have these multiple prototypes hanging up in your closet,” Wesig said. “You’re up at 3 in the morning, thinking, ‘oh my gosh I have thousands of dollars on the line.’”
Wesig said he stressed constantly about failing, but despite that he never stopped working on his designs.
The very first prototype had a cut-out of a hand in front of the face, which would be changed to a face shield on the final product.
After his wire material designs were functional, Wesig and the team at DI began creating official prototypes, meeting every Monday to work on the design.
Wesig and the design team noticed some issues with that first design. There was too much space between the fingers, and the harness was unstable.
The team was able to finally settle on a shape that achieved their goal of having the nearest feeling to a defender up against a ball handler in a real game.
“It was almost like I had bat suits in my closet, the way Batman did, with all of my prototypes,” Wesig jokes. “We had so many different visual exhibitors at this time.”
As the design neared its final form, Wesig decided to start testing it out for real, with real players.
Hitting the hardwood
During the design process Wesig traveled to various gyms and recreation centers around Akron, Canton and even to the Beverly J. Warren Student Recreation & Wellness Center in Kent. He would ask complete strangers to try out his design, and despite some strange looks he found a few takers.
From this testing, Wesig realized stabilizing the face shield was crucial. Also of concern was making sure the harness was secure and ensuring it could be cleaned easily.
After constant combinations of prototypes, photoshoots, website designs and packaging, Wesig finally found what he felt was the final Never Ending Defender design.
“This whole process can be all summed up by sitting down, coming up with an idea and being able to compromise,” Wesig said.
Wesig said the turning point in development was when he went to Los Angeles last spring to visit basketball trainer Carlos Jimenez. Jimenez also had a vision of revolutionizing basketball training by designing the UYP app, which is dedicated to growing development of youth basketball players in the Los Angeles area.
As Brandon got off the plane at LAX with his final prototype, he took a train to Santa Cruz to meet Jimenez at a gym with two of his players to test the Never Ending Defender.
The first test was with a D-II college player Jimenez brought. The test went well, but when another player tried the product, he set it to the dribbling setting and pulled up to take a jumper. With the mask in the lower, dribbling setting it was right in the way of the player’s hand.
The face mask shattered.
On his way back from Santa Cruz, Wesig stopped at a Walmart and bought duct tape, scissors and glue. He sat in the Los Angeles International Airport fixing the only thing he had to show for his months of hard work. He slept that night on the linoleum floor of LAX.
“It taught me the amount of sacrifice I needed,” Wesig said. “Business isn’t handed to you. Sleeping on an airport floor at 29 years old with no money and the only product you have to sell to the world, it teaches you to be strong and believe what you’re selling.”
Going to market
For nine months Wesig has been working tirelessly on his dream. And now he finally has the final version of his product to show the world. After countless hours of brainstorming and numerous prototypes, the Never Ending Defender was launched for sale online four weeks ago. In that month, 20 units were sold.
Despite low starting sales, Wesig said he feels good about the state of his product which has received praise from former members of the Kent State basketball community.
Kent State basketball great Jimmy Hall endorsed the product on its website.
"When I’m using it I feel like I’m literally working with someone with their hand in my face,” Hall said in a review. “It could be a tool that a coach could use during practice in station work.”
Bobby Steinburg, a former Kent State men’s basketball assistant coach and current high school coach, invited Wesig to attend a practice recently where he did a demonstration of the product with his team.
Wesig traveled to Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to show Steinerg’s team the Never Ending Defender.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea and the timing can’t be better with youth basketball players working out on their own,” Steinberg said. “[Wesig] is a go-getter. I think this product will start growing with a lot of middle and high school players first. So many players have personal trainers, where in college it’s more scripted training. Once it takes off in the high school ranks when more programs are using it, it will help Brandon fine tune it more.”
For Wesig, a product that helps the game he loves so much and gives back to the sport and community is the goal.
“I never wanted to create a gimmick,” he said. “I wanted to create a product that helps the basketball community.”
Dante Centofanti is a sports reporter. Contact him at email@example.com.