Pandemic keeps area standouts J.R. Konieczny, Blake Wesley perfect strangers to Notre Dame program

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey could walk outside his Rolfs Hall office, step into his car, point it south and be at South Bend Saint Joseph High School in maybe five minutes.

He could bypass that school’s gymnasium for another about two miles and change further south where he could pull up to Riley High in less than 10 minutes.

Both schools, home to two future Irish men’s basketball players, might as well be on the moon.

Guards J.R. Konieczny (Saint Joseph) and Blake Wesley (Riley) have had special senior seasons. Konieczny became the Indians’ all-time leading scorer late in the year while Wesley helped the Wildcats win their third a Class 4A sectional title in the last seven seasons. Both ended the regular season averaging just under 30 points per game. The 6-foot-7 Konieczny, the Northern Indiana Conference most valuable player, was at 28.8. The 6-5 Wesley, also a first team all-league selection, was at 27.6.

Both won sectional championships Saturday. Following Notre Dame’s afternoon home victory over then-No. 11 Florida State, Brey might’ve swung past South Bend Washington High School that night to catch Konieczny and the Indians beat Glenn. One of his assistants could’ve made the trek to Michigan City to see Wesley and Riley upset South Bend Adams. But they couldn’t.

“We had a great group text going,” Brey said Monday. “We’re so proud of those guys.”

Thanks to the ongoing dead period established by the NCAA when the coronavirus pandemic first hit last March, college coaches are prohibited from recruiting off campus. Or stepping off campus to see their recruits. The period was initially set to run until April 15, but has been extended to go through May 31. Until then, Brey and the coaching staff are tethered to their Rolfs offices.

No road trips. No visits to gyms. No in-person contact, even with guys right there in town.

Typically, the coaching staff would’ve been out to see a handful of regular-season games from each player. Konieczny and Wesley also would’ve been regulars at Irish home games. They could sit in the stands, then visit with the players and coaches afterward in the locker room lounge.

There’s been none of that this season.

“I miss them,” Brey said. “”I would’ve seen both of those guys play about 10 times already this year. Think about the dynamic — these two kids are in my town. We’ve developed an unbelievable relationship. They’ve pretty much lived on our campus and played pickup with our guys, and they haven’t been able to step foot on our campus since (last) March.”

Brey hasn’t met with either player in person in about a year. Both signed their official letters of intent to attend Notre Dame in November. Even then, the Irish staff wasn’t allowed to attend those signing ceremonies.

“It’s just really frustrating,” Brey said. “God bless them. It’s been fun to watch them break records and play well.”

Brey hopes to have both on campus and in classes come June.

“I’m excited about getting them,” Brey said. “I hope we have a normal summer school. I feel we’re trending that way.”

Konieczny and Saint Joseph (19-4) return to South Bend Washington High School on Saturday to face Twin Lakes in one Class 3A regional semifinal at 10 a.m. eastern time. Wesley and the Wildcats (18-6) also return to Michigan City on Saturday to play Valparaiso in a 4A regional semifinal. That one tips at 11 a.m. eastern.

“They’ve both got big challenges on Saturday,” Brey said.

Riley guard Blake Wesley holds the sectional championship trophy after Saturday’s victory over Adams.
South Bend Saint Joseph guard J.R. Konieczny became the school’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season.

Notre Dame's first-round Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game against Wake Forest on Tuesday was completed after Tribune deadline. For a full recap and box score of the game, go to NDInsider.com.