Noie: Already 574 Strong, area standout Blake Wesley was destined for Notre Dame
A last-minute airline ticket (window or aisle seat?) was not necessary.
Neither were hotel reservations or making sure he had his usual class of rental car warmed and waiting at some out of town airport.
When there was a break in the Notre Dame men’s basketball schedule last winter, Irish coach Mike Brey knew exactly how to spend it. He and his assistant coaches would hit the road to go recruit. A couple of the guys would head out east. Maybe the third to the south. Or to the Midwest. Brey? His itinerary was in stone. He wasn’t getting on any planes or sleeping in any hotels. He was going to recruit locally. Like, in town. In the Bend.
At that point, Brey already had a commitment from South Bend Saint Joseph small forward J.R. Konieczny. So there was little reason to see him. He’d eventually be Irish come November. Who Brey would watch really wasn’t a secret. His smile said as much.
Once Konieczny committed in August 2019, only one name remained a viable option on the Irish recruiting board. It stayed there for weeks. Months. Over a year. It was the name of Riley High School shooting guard Blake Wesley. Brey’s main remaining recruiting objective was to get Wesley.
On Friday morning — OK, actually late Wednesday night — Brey got Wesley to add to his All-574 recruiting class for 2021. On Friday, Wesley sat in front of a collection of cameras and 10 family members/friends at a makeshift extended table inside Oldham Gym at Riley High School and made it official. A little backward, but official.
Usually, prospects who have as many as two dozen college scholarship offers as Wesley corralled, commit first and sign second. Late Wednesday, with the window to the early signing period set to shut, Wesley officially and quietly signed his national letter of intent. All that was then left was a public verbal commitment.
Wesley sat at a table with hats from six schools spread out in front of him. He then reached to his right and grabbed the blue and gold one of Notre Dame. He tried to place it on his head — his basket of hair wasn’t having it — and removed his hoodie to reveal his future No. 0 blue and gold Notre Dame jersey.
Just like that, within minutes, everything was over. Thanks for coming, everyone. Something that Wesley once never really considered — staying home and going to school a short drive up the road at Notre Dame — was reality. He becomes the first player from a South Bend public high school to sign with the Notre Dame men’s basketball team since Michael Smith (LaSalle) in 1985.
Wanting to get it over after watching Konieczny sign nine days earlier, Wesley admitted he was a bundle of nerves when he awoke Friday morning. Everything he had come to know about recruiting had changed. There was more realness to it. Soon, it would be time to move on. Part of him wondered whether he should wait until the middle of December — his original commitment plan — to announce. Because for all the excitement, Wesley was feeling something else.
“I was nervous; I was emotional,” Wesley said. “I’m going to college next year at 18 and will be playing against grown men. It’s going to be tough, but I’m ready to work.”
The gotta-get guy
Friday’s announcement carried little drama. There was no last-minute hat/school switch. No hesitation or second guess. Despite fielding offers from so many schools, there really was only one place for him. Brey and assistant coach Ryan Humphrey first saw Wesley play at an NCAA prospect combine in Champaign, Ill., before his junior year. Right after that day’s games, a scholarship offer was extended. A relationship, basically, was born.
Brey had known of Wesley long before he became a three-year starter and four-star college prospect at Riley. He’d tracked him since middle school.
“He has developed into a complete guard who has great length with court vision — and is a big-time defender,” Brey said in a university statement.
Seldom did a designated day under NCAA recruiting guidelines pass when Brey or Humphrey and sometimes both didn’t check in with Wesley. How was his school work? His game? His grades? His family, which includes a set of grandparents that live right near Notre Dame? Other coaches would eventually come calling, but Wesley never forgot all the conversations with Brey and with Humphrey.
Oh, and being the top prospect on the recruiting board inside a Rolfs Hall conference room also didn’t hurt.
“Being No. 1 on their board was crazy,” Wesley said. “They worked hard to get me.”
A first team All-Northern Indiana Conference selection last season, the 6-foot-5, 170-pound Wesley averaged a league-best 26.0 points per game. He’ll battle his good buddy and future teammate Konieczny for league most valuable player honors this winter. Wesley says he’s improved his game, especially attacking the rim and digging in and defending, since spring. This season starts Tuesday for Wesley and the Wildcats.
Wesley’s basketball pedigree runs deep. His father, Derrick, was recruited to Notre Dame by former Irish coach Digger Phelps. He played collegiately at Ball State and is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. Wesley is trained by former Washington High School standout Cedric Moodie. His mentor is former LaSalle and Purdue point guard Brandon McKnight.
“That’s my guy,” McKnight said of Wesley.
Wesley said Friday he talks with Irish guard Prentiss Hubb every day. One of his closest basketball confidants is former Marian and Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson. He’s been through what Wesley will experience at Notre Dame. He knows well of the challenges, the disappointments and the successes.
Wesley and Jackson spoke Thursday night. Wesley considers him one of his role models.
“I’m really happy for him and proud of him,” Jackson told the Tribune in a direct message. “He has unlimited potential and I believe he is the type of player that can help ND win a national title. It’s a win for the 574.”
On Friday, Wesley outlined some of his goals once he gets to Notre Dame. Among them, earn Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year. That’s a pretty high bar, especially given that he’ll arrive on campus to a loaded perimeter that should include three returning starters from this year’s team — Dane Goodwin, Hubb and Cormac Ryan — and another guard (Trey Wertz) sitting out this season after transferring from Santa Clara.
Brey likes to say that he can’t have too many guards. He’ll have a whole bunch of them next season. Wesley will be the youngest. He has to get stronger. He has to grow up, on and off the court. He’ll have to be ready to compete in the classroom. He’ll have to work to earn minutes, but that’s nothing new. He had to work a whole lot to get to where he sat Friday.
All that work delivered the all-expense paid ticket to Notre Dame for athletics, for academics, for life.
“It’s going to pay off,” Moodie told Wesley. “I’m just proud of (him). It’s your turn. Take it and run with it.”
That’s the plan.
“I was nervous; I was emotional. I’m going to college next year at 18 and will be playing against grown men. It’s going to be tough, but I’m ready to work.”
Notre Dame commit and Riley High School senior Blake Wesley