South Bend native Blake Wesley makes first start for Notre Dame at Boston College
That didn’t take long.
Or did it?
No matter the reason in his first season, former Riley High School standout Blake Wesley found himself in a new spot during Friday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Boston College.
In the starting lineup, which just received a needed jolt of juice.
After Wesley went for 21 points in his collegiate debut — becoming the first Irish freshman to score at least 20 in his debut since former guard Chris Thomas did it in 2001 — it was assumed that Wesley would move into the starting lineup sooner than later.
Turns out it was sooner, and turns out that an already news-filled week around Notre Dame got a little newsier.
Wesley played the first 3:08 as the main ball handler. He missed his first two shots before being replaced by senior guard Prentiss Hubb, who promptly made a 3 after the Irish trailed 7-0.
Wesley scored a career high 24 points in Monday’s 82-72 loss at Illinois. In the second half, Irish coach Mike Brey basically put the ball in Wesley’s hands and said, here, you go initiate/run/lead the offense. Wesley scored 18 points in the second half.
Brey admitted afterward and reiterated Thursday before the Irish left for New England that making Wesley an even a bigger part of the offense as the lead guard — and starting — was under strong consideration. It was something he believed the Irish almost had to do.
“He’s really gifted,” Brey said. “He's very fortunate that he plays with some senior guards that allow him and know, you’ve got the ball, go make plays for us.”
But from the jump? Pressed about that area on Thursday, Brey wasn’t going to go there — not yet.
“That’s something we’re really thinking about, talking about,” Brey said. “That’s something we really need to evaluate (Thursday) and see if that’s how we come out of the gate (Friday). Our lineup through the year probably will change.”
The move to start Wesley was made only seven games into the season, and made after Notre Dame lost three of its last four. After sticking with the same starting five the first six games, Brey slotted Wesley in the starting five in place of Hubb
Notre Dame has stayed with a core rotation of seven players the first few weeks of the season. It moved to eight, albeit briefly, against Illinois with sophomore power forward Elijah Taylor the last guy. Wesley and fellow guard Trey Wertz usually are the first substitutes in off the bench shortly before or immediately after the first media timeout at the 16-minute mark.
On Monday. Wesley played in a true road environment for the first time in college. It was the first time that Notre Dame has played in front of that many fans — attendance at Illinois was 14,907 — since late the 2019-20 season. That was more than 640 days ago. Wesley was a junior in high school.
“I’m not used to playing in that atmosphere,” Wesley said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But after the first shot, I was good. I got going.”
The 6-foot-5, 185-pound Wesley has had a typical freshman start to college basketball. He was really good against Cal State Northridge (21 points, one rebound, one assist in 24 minutes), then struggled the next time out against High Point (four points, three rebounds, 15 minutes). He averaged 9.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18.6 minutes last week at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in Las Vegas.
In six games this season, Wesley is second on the squad in scoring at 13.0 per game. He’s shooting 53.8 percent from the floor, 39.1 percent from 3 and 61.9 percent from the foul line in 20.4 minutes.
“He's very special,” Brey said. “We just gotta keep grooming him and how to play around him and off of him.”
Freshmen rarely start this early during Brey. Three years ago, guard Robby Carmody, who has seen his entire collegiate career — past and present and likely future — derailed by injury, became the first freshman to start the season’s first game since former power forward Torin Francis in 2002.
Current sophomore Tony Sanders Jr., and Matt Zona both started a game late last season at Miami (Fla.) when Brey benched the entire starting five and went with five reserves. That game resulted in Notre Dame scoring 63 points off the bench in a 73-59 win.
Wesley insisted earlier this week that he and his game are prepared for ACC play.
“I’ve got to be ready,” he said, “from the jump.”
On Friday, the jump arrived with the jump.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI