Notre Dame freshman Blake Wesley is already making a significant impact with the Fighting Irish. At this rate, he won’t be in South Bend for long.
The December 11 matchup between Kentucky and Notre Dame was supposed to be a showcase of the Wildcats’ potential draft prospects. Oscar Tshiebwe has been off to a dominant start and there has been plenty of hype around freshman TyTy Washington.
Many had labeled Washington as a one-and-done lottery pick coming into the season, but his inconsistent play against the Irish showed to be typical of a freshman. However, it was a different freshman guard who captivated the crowd’s attention.
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Notre Dame freshman Blake Wesley entered the season without appearing on many radars. A local product, graduating from South Bend (Ind.) Riley High, Wesley scored 1,496 career points — including 27.1 per game — his senior season.
Wesley was the No. 103 player in the 2021 class via Rivals.com. He chose Notre Dame over offers from Indiana, Purdue, Iowa, Butler, Cincinnati and others. It was a recruiting win for Notre Dame in picking up a regional recruit, but it didn’t make many headlines nationally.
Kentucky walked into Purcell Pavilion as a 4.5-point favorite against the Irish. The Wildcats were 7-1 at the time and ranked No. 10 in the AP polls. It was Wesley’s second start of the season, and the game was nip and tuck throughout. With the score tied at 62 with 17 seconds remaining, the ball swung around the perimeter and landed in Wesley’s hands.
Wesley faced up his defender — Kentucky super senior Davion Mintz — on the right wing. He attacked the middle of the floor, pulled up at the free-throw line, and knocked down the game-winner. The Fighting Irish trusted a local freshman with the game on the line in only the eighth game of his college career.
Bursting onto the scene
Wesley finished the game tied for a team-high 14 points while adding four rebounds and three assists. He was also 6-of-12 from the floor and 2-of-5 from three.
It took six games for head coach Mike Brey to play Wesley at least 25 minutes and only seven games to place Wesley in the starting lineup. In the five games since his first start, Notre Dame has played Kentucky, Indiana, Boston College, Western Michigan, and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, going 3-2 in the stretch.
Wesley has been the only consistent bright spot in Notre Dame’s 6-5 start to the year. Not only is he playing a lot, but he is also playing in a featured capacity and doing so efficiently. Wesley has scored in double figures in nine of his 11 games, and is one of two D-1 freshmen averaging over 13 points with a player efficiency rating (PER) over 20 and a usage rate above 30.
Blake Wesley has produced
Wesley has quickly proved to be a multi-faceted impact player for Notre Dame. He is a quick-twitch athlete listed at 6-5 with a wingspan reported to be just shy of 7-feet. He pairs this length and athleticism with great effort on the defensive end to be the Fighting Irish’s top perimeter defender.
Even with his impressive defensive upside, it’s on the offensive end where Wesley has impressed. He joins Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith, TyTy Washington, Chet Holmgren and Kennedy Chandler as the only D-1 freshmen averaging more than 13 points, three rebounds and two assists per game.
His production has come efficiently as well. Wesley is also the only D-1 freshman with a usage percentage over 30 and a turnover percentage of less than 15.
Looking toward the NBA
Wesley has NBA measurables with his positional size, wingspan and athleticism. He is an explosive finisher at the rim with a lightning-quick first step. This season, basketball analytics service Synergy shows that Wesley is scoring 1.667 points per possession in single-covered isolation plays.
Wesley has shown to be an adept creator, especially out of the pick-and-roll. As the primary pick-and-roll ball-handler, Notre Dame scores 1.267 points per possession on his various passing attempts, per Synergy.
The freshman is a quality ball-handler in both transition and in the halfcourt. Wesley’s 30.8 usage percentage shows he is comfortable being a high-volume player who can create opportunities for himself or his teammates.
Overall, this is still a small sample size for Wesley. He was not a heralded player coming into this season, and his Notre Dame team is not projected to win many games.
While the NBA is now paying attention, he may take another year to reach his fullest potential in college ball. Currently, Wesley is looking like a possible mid-to-late first-rounder in the upcoming NBA Draft but ranks as high as No. 8 in NBADraftNet‘s big board.
If he stays a second year and gives scouts more time to evaluate, Blake Wesley could enjoy a Jaden Ivey-esque jump into the lottery conversation for next year’s NBA Draft.
Header image courtesy of Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports.