How Ja opened NBA playbook for Irish’s Wesley

2e1e4d40 d53a 11ec ac8f e059926126a3
Sports

LAS VEGAS — One-and-done players are usually five-star prospects in high school and McDonald’s All-Americans. Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero have been on NBA scouts’ radar because of their high profile before hitting the college scene.

Blake Wesley is far from your typical one-and-done.

The 6-foot-5 combo guard was an under-the-radar high school recruit, ranked just outside the top 100 in his high school class. Wesley wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American and didn’t get invited to participate at Nike’s Hoop Summit or Jordan Brand Classic, events that allow NBA scouts and front-office executives to get early eyes on the top prospects coming up.

He didn’t play on the popular Nike Elite Youth Basketball League circuit for AAU ball during high school. A year away from competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic kept him from a potential breakout spring and summer heading into his senior year.

“COVID helped me and didn’t help me at the same time,” Wesley told Yahoo Sports. “One way it helped me is I got in the gym every single day. The bad thing was I didn’t get to play in front of other coaches and the media people on the sidelines that do rankings and stuff like that. At the end of the day, I just stayed focused on what I could control and I got better.”

Wesley was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana, and chose to play for Mike Brey at Notre Dame over Butler, Purdue, Cincinnati, Louisville and Maryland.

“Coach Brey and Coach [Ryan] Humphrey just stayed consistent throughout my recruitment, and it was the perfect situation just being able to stay close to home and have my family at all my games,” Wesley said.

Blake Wesley wasn't highly regarded out of high school, but had a solid showing in his freshman season at Notre Dame and could be a lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Blake Wesley wasn’t highly regarded out of high school, but had a solid showing in his freshman season at Notre Dame and could be a lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

“The first time I saw him was his sophomore year at a camp in Champagne, Illinois, and he constantly made the right play,” Humphrey, a Notre Dame assistant, told Yahoo Sports. “In those type of environments, everyone’s looking to score, everyone’s looking to show off. When it was time for Blake to score, he scored. When it was time for him to make the right pass, he made it. If they needed him to play the five, he did that. It just came so effortlessly for him.”

During summer workouts, it didn’t take long for the coaching staff to notice the freshman guard was special.

“When he showed up on campus, just in the first couple practices, he stood out,” Humphrey said. “He had an incredible feel for the game. By the time our last practice of the summer rolled around, he was the best player on the floor. It was one of those days where we, all the coaches, just left practice and were like, ‘Wow.’”

Before the end of the summer, Wesley was in Las Vegas during the NBA’s Summer League and worked out with the projected top-three pick next year, Scoot Henderson at Impact Basketball. Henderson and Wesley were on a court on one side of the gym and Kyle Lowry, Paul George, DeMar DeRozan and Tyrese Haliburton were working out on the other side.

“That was crazy being in the gym that week,” Wesley said, shaking his head. “It’s where I met Scoot and got to go head-to-head with him and just looking at the other court at all the pros getting their workout in. They’re where I want to be so it just made me go harder.”

Wesley joined a Notre Dame squad filled with seven seniors and came off the bench to start the season. Once NBA scouts saw Wesley in practice and in early games, his pro potential was apparent.

“He has great speed and facilitates well for his teammates,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “I think his passing is his most underrated part of the game and he’s a player with a lot of upside and room for growth at the NBA level.”

Wesley started to show up in NBA mock drafts in early December as a late first-round pick. The game on Dec. 11 against No. 10 Kentucky was the turning point for Wesley. Tied with under 30 seconds left, Wesley hit the game-winning shot with 13 seconds remaining. He finished with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists in the win.

“You don’t see a lot of freshmen with the ball in their hands at the end of the game, especially at Notre Dame,” Wesley said. “That Kentucky game was unbelievable. I just got to my spot, that’s something I’ve always worked on, and shot it and it went in. After the game, I just remember a whole bunch of people running at me and I just thought, ‘Wow, I really hit the game-winner.’ After that game, I knew I could compete with the best players out there.”

“He’s always been confident in his abilities but that Kentucky game was something else,” Humphrey added. “There were all these big-time players, former five-star recruits, and Notre Dame had the best athlete on the court.”

During the second semester, it started to sink in that Wesley could be good enough to enter the 2022 NBA draft, making him the first one-and-done prospect in Notre Dame history.

“It’s crazy because I wasn’t even a top-100 player coming out of high school,” Wesley said. “When I first got to college, my parents and I talked about my max years until possibly going to the NBA and I told them two years. But then this year really worked out for me and I was able to grow my game a lot.”

There is no other player quite like Wesley in this year’s draft. Pending strong team workouts, Wesley could sneak into the lottery.

“Look at Ja Morant,” Wesley said. “He had like zero stars in high school, only one offer and now look at him. He’s one of the best players in the world. Everyone has their own path and mine doesn’t have to look like everyone else.”

Since returning to Impact Basketball in Las Vegas for pre-draft workouts, head trainer Joe Abunassar has helped him improve his jump shot (Wesley estimates he puts up anywhere from 800 to 900 shots a day) and his body through weights and nutrition. Wesley added 9 pounds to his frame since the end of the college season.

“It’s just been a blessing to come out here and work with the best guys in the country,” Wesley said. “I’m getting better every day and I’m just being myself, like my parents taught me to be.”

The upcoming five weeks before the June 23 draft will be filled with interviews with teams, the draft combine Wednesday through Friday in Chicago and team workouts. Wesley’s game translates well to the next level with his high basketball IQ, speed and decision-making off ball screens. His story of under-the-radar high school recruit to the first one-and-done in school history is one of hard work and perseverance.

Draft night is going to be filled with the usual nerves. Heart beating fast, sweaty palms but there’s one moment Wesley can’t wait for.

“I just want to hear my name called by [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver,” Wesley said with a smile. “It would be a blessing to me and my family and the whole community. Then it’s time to get to work.”

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Keir Starmer speech: Labour plans publicly owned renewable energy giant
Hurricane Ian: Bigotry couldn’t beat this family – then came the storm
Harry Styles’ As It Was becomes longest-running US number one by a UK act
Social media a factor in Molly Russell death – coroner
Olivia Pratt-Korbel: Man charged with schoolgirl’s murder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.