ACC men's basketball: Irish's record year doesn't translate to large post-season awards haul
Asked heading into the final week of the regular season to identify a group of players who might be worthy of an all-league look, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner mentioned one name.
And one name only.
When it came time to vote for the league's elite, Pastner believed in that moment that there was nobody better in the Atlantic Coast Conference than Notre Dame freshman guard Blake Wesley. Not for all-freshman honors, which he earned when the ACC handed out its season awards Monday, but for player of the year.
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Pastner considered Wesley, a South Bend Riley High School product, that talented, that deserving, that much of a problem for other coaches and teams around the league.
"Blake Wesley is as good as anybody," said Pastner, who watched Wesley go for 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in a 34-point Irish win on Feb. 26, two days before his comments on a Zoom conference call for league coaches and media. "He changes their whole team. He's just scratching the surface."
Wesley's work as a freshman — in what could be his only college season — didn't earn him a player of the year vote, but it was enough to also earn him second team All-ACC in a vote of league coaches and media. Wesley was not on any preseason all-league team. He earned freshman of the week honors three times over the course of the regular season.
He's the first Irish to earn all-freshman recognition in the ACC. The last Irish freshman to do that, back when Notre Dame was in the Big East, was Jerian Grant in 2011-12.
Wesley played in all 31 games for Notre Dame (22-9, 15-5). He averaged a team-best 14.8 points per game with 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 29.3 minutes. He shot .415 percent from the field, .321 from 3 and .646 from the foul line.
"He's always had such a confidence and belief in himself," Irish coach Mike Brey said recently of Wesley. "His mind is so free and he's so confident and maybe just feels it's his destiny."
Wesley finished with 148 votes, fourth most, for second team. In addition to the all-rookie squad, Wesley was second for freshman of the year behind Duke's Paolo Banchero, who received 72 votes. Wesley had four.
League coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players.
Irish senior guard Dane Goodwin earned third team honors for the first all-league recognition of his career. Goodwin averaged a career best 14.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in 33.8 minutes. He shot .498 percent from the field, .448 percent from 3 and .885 percent from 3. Goodwin received three votes for the league's most improved. He has the option of returning for a super senior year in 2022-23.
"He's really become a guard," Brey said earlier this year about Goodwin. "The stuff around the bucket, when we get him a touch, I think it's going (in) every time."
Graduate student Paul Atkinson, Jr., earned honorable mention in his only ACC season.
"He's such a gifted player for us," Brey said earlier this season of Atkinson, who averaged 12.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 27.3 minutes. He finished with seven double-doubles for points and rebounds while shooting .581 percent from the field, .766 percent from the foul line.
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Brey, who led Notre Dame to a school record 15 league wins after a combined 20 the previous three seasons, finished third in coach of the year voting behind Wake Forest's Steve Forbes and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Brey has never earned coach of the year honors during Notre Dame's nine ACC seasons.
"Notre Dame is an old, veteran group that's led by an old veteran coach who knows what he's doing," said Louisville coach Mike Pegues, coached by Brey as a player at Delaware. "They're going to give teams problems in Brooklyn."
Picked eighth in preseason, Notre Dame finished second, one game in the loss column behind regular-season league champion Duke.
However the all-league honors turned out Monday, Brey said following Saturday's win over Pittsburgh to end the regular season that it wouldn't have much influence on the Irish moving into postseason.
Maybe senior guard/captain Prentiss Hubb deserved honorable mention honors. Or Nate Laszewski or Cormac Ryan for all-defensive team. None of three were recognized, and that's OK, even for a team that finished in second place.
"Not everybody will get their due," Brey said. "At times, I used to worry about that as we went to the ACC tournament or the Big East tournament — 'God, he's really had a good year, but I don't know ... is that going to mess him up?'
"With this group, if guys get short-changed or we feel they get short-changed, the fabric is so strong, I don't think it's going to be a factor."
Notre Dame opens ACC tournament play Thursday at Barclays Center in New York against the winner of Wednesday's second-round game between Virginia Tech and Clemson/North Carolina State.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI
ACC MEN’S TOURNAMENT
At Brooklyn, New York
Tuesday’s first round
Game 1: No. 12 Pittsburgh (11-20) vs. No. 13 Boston College (11-19), 2 p.m. (ACCN)
Game 2: No. 10 Clemson (16-15) vs. No. 15 N.C. State (11-20), 4:30 p.m. (ACCN)
Game 3: No. 11 Louisville (12-18) vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech (12-19), 7 p.m. (ACCN)
Wednesday’s second round
Game 4: No. 8 Florida State (17-13) vs. No. 9 Syracuse (15-16), 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: No. 5 Wake Forest (23-8) vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6: No. 7 Virginia Tech (19-12) vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 6 Virginia (18-12) vs. Game 3 winner, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 8: No. 1 Duke (26-5) vs. Game 4 winner, 12 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 9: No. 4 Miami (22-9) vs. Game 5 winner, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 10: No. 2 Notre Dame (22-9) vs. Game 6 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 11: No. 3 North Carolina (23-8) vs. Game 7 winner, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 12: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 13: Game 10 winner vs. Game 11 winner, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 14: Friday winners, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)