Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 JUNE/JULY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL B lake Wesley's running mate dur- ing NBA Draft Combine athletic testing drills May 18 was Kennedy Chandler, the former Tennessee point guard and five-star recruit first la- beled as a likely one-and-done some two or three years ago. He came from a prep school powerhouse. Duke and Kentucky wanted him. His name has appeared in 2022 mock drafts since they first came out. This is the background of nearly all one-and-dones. Yet there on the Wintrust Arena floor with Chandler was Wesley, an in- trepid disruptor who caught everyone off guard — even himself — by going from a fringe top-100 recruit in South Bend to a probable first-round pick in less than a year. His name now appears ahead of Chandler in some mock drafts. Like Chandler, NBA teams advised him that doing shooting drills and scrimmag- ing at the combine wasn't necessary. Wesley, never deficient in self-con- fidence, does not often surprise him- self. He didn't think he would need four years at Notre Dame to reach the NBA. But turning into a one-and-done — the first in Notre Dame history? Not even he saw this coming. "It's crazy," Wesley said. "I'm still processing it in my head." Wesley always believed he could get here. He was still a four-star recruit with high-major offers, not a no-star hoping to be one in a million. If all went according to his plan, he'd be an NBA Draft commodity by the end of his sophomore year. Leading Notre Dame in scoring as a freshman, dis- playing rare explosiveness and helping the Irish reach their first NCAA Tournament in five years changed the calculus, though. Wesley needed just seven games to nudge his way into the Irish's starting lineup. A head-turning 24-point game in a loss at Illinois Nov. 29 that included scoring 14 straight points was the impe- tus. It caught the NBA's attention, too. As did his 14 points and game-winning shot against Kentucky two weeks later. The latter lit the fuse for him, too. "After I played against [Kentucky], I knew I could compete with the best," Wesley said. "I knew I was going to go up from there, be a high-level pro." Wesley went all in on that chase March 30, declaring for the draft and stating he wouldn't be returning to Notre Dame. First-round status is fleet- ing. Wesley pounced on it. "Me and my parents talked about two years and then done," Wesley said. "But this year was the best year for me. If I go back, risk getting injured, losing my stock … my family told me to go for it." Wesley's belief in his upside made him feel comfortable taking the plunge now. He's also self-aware enough to know there were bumps along the way and deficiencies he had to address. He shot just 40.4 percent overall and 30.3 per- cent on 3-pointers. His assist-to-turn- over ratio was barely positive. He made only 15 of his 45 field goal attempts in three NCAA Tournament games. For NBA teams, he's an upside play with a wide range of possible outcomes. Teams brought up his inconsistent 3-point shooting and struggles finish- ing at the rim in interviews at the com- bine. They're blunt. That's fine with Wesley, who isn't learning anything he didn't know about himself. "I was getting to the rim, but couldn't finish," Wesley said. "I felt like I was going too fast. I'm focused on getting in the weight room and getting stronger, don't focus on the defense too much, focus on the rim." Wesley spent two months this spring training at IMPACT in Las Vegas, with adding strength as a primary goal. He weighed at 187 pounds at the combine, up from the 180 he said he played at most of the season. Days without lift- ing and a protein shake are rare. Refin- ing his jump shot is another priority. And a lot more goes into it than hoist- ing 3-pointers until his arm is sore. "It's a lot of reps, but it's also mak- ing sure we limit the movement," said Joe Abunassar, his trainer at IMPACT. "When he catches the ball, he's catching it and shooting it ver- sus catching it and moving the ball around, which leads to a lot of incon- sistency. It's a lot of time, but also a lot of focus on small details." Would Wesley have helped himself and become a surefire lottery pick in 2023 if he chose to focus on them at Notre Dame? Perhaps. There's risk to it. There are also examples of it paying off. He doesn't have to look far. Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, his friend and a fellow South Bend native, by- passed a potential first-round selection last year. He became an All-American as a sophomore and thrust himself into the top-five discussion. Ivey is also one of five two-and-dones who are projected lottery picks. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey ini- tially pitched on Wesley coming back and shooting for that outcome. But even he came around on the idea of Wesley chas- ing it now. Brey has watched Wesley grow from unheralded to coveted since first seeing him play at a recruiting event three summers ago in Champaign, Ill. He's not betting on that growth stopping when Wesley reaches the sport's highest level. "As weeks went by, he told me to go for it," Wesley said. "Live your dreams." All Brey asked for in return was a seat in the green room for the June 23 draft. "I told him," Wesley said, "I have to earn that first." ✦ Going For It: Blake Wesley Is All In On 2022 NBA Draft Wesley became the first one-and-done basketball player in Notre Dame history and is a projected first-round NBA Draft pick. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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