Where will Irish guard Blake Wesley play next season? NBA or Notre Dame? Questions remain

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Mar 20, 2022; San Diego, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) controls the ball against Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Clarence Nadolny (3) in the first half during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Viejas Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame freshman guard Blake Wesley opened up and stepped through a massive basketball door early Wednesday afternoon. 

He didn’t completely close it behind him. 

At least, not yet. 

Wesley announced in a six-paragraph statement that he posted on social media and addressed to Irish Nation that he is “entering his name in the 2022 NBA draft.

In doing so, he would become the first Notre Dame player in program history to be a one-and-done — one year of college, then professional basketball. 

“Playing for the Notre Dame family and the South Bend community has made this year an incredible experience,” Wesley wrote. “It has been a dream and a goal for me to play at the next level. God has a plan for me and I trust him.” 

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Wesley made no mention of the possibility of returning to school. He told ESPN later Wednesday afternoon that he plans on "staying in the draft."

He declined a Tribune interview request.

Shortly after Wesley posted his statement on Twitter, in which he also thanked his family and his teammates and the Irish coaching staff, the tweet was deleted. It was reposted two hours later. 

Wesley’s post/plan was in contrast to what Irish coach Mike Brey told a Chicago radio station Wednesday morning. Speaking with the Mully and Haugh Show on 670 (AM) The Score, Brey said that Wesley would announce plans to enter the NBA draft, gather feedback from individual and group workouts over the next two months, then decide by the June 1 deadline whether to return to school or remain in the draft. 

Three players have following similar professional paths during Brey’s 22 seasons at Notre Dame. 

Returning to school — at least right now — is not an option. 

Mar 16, 2022; Dayton, Ohio, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) dribbles down court defended by Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Caleb McConnell (22) in the first half at University of Dayton Arena.

A source close to Wesley offered some clarification, saying that the Irish guard is totally committed to chasing his NBA dream. He will leave open the option of returning to school. For now — stress, now — that is not something that Wesley believes he will do. 

His mother also took to social media and wrote “This is not a test!” in terms of her son’s draft prospects. 

Wesley remains enrolled at Notre Dame, according to source with knowledge of the situation. 

Brey told the Mully and Haugh Show that he met with Wesley and his family in their home Tuesday. 

“If he does what I think he can do out there in these workouts (then) he’s a first-round/lottery pick,” Brey said, “I will lead the parade out of town.” 

Two NBA scouts, who have followed Wesley closely this season, told the Tribune that Wesley might be a mid- to late-first round draft pick. another scout does not have him on his first-round board. 

NBA scouts are not authorized to speak publicly about college underclassmen. 

First-round draft picks sign four-year contracts, with only the first two years guaranteed. The final two are team options. 

Various mock drafts have Wesley projected as a middle- to late-first round selection. He was slotted as high as a Top 10 pick in one mock draft earlier in the season. 

A South Bend native and former Riley High School standout, Wesley was a second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection and a member of the league's all-freshman team. 

The decision to stay or go was one that those close to the program expected following Wesley's first season where he averaged a team-high 14.4 points. He also averaged 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 29.4 minutes. He finished the year with a team-high 44 steals. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) dribbles past Indiana Hoosiers guard Rob Phinisee (1) during the Crossroads Classic college basketball tournament on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the Indiana Hoosiers.

Finals 16

Wesley played in all 35 games, with 28 starts. He shot .404 percent from the field, .303 percent from 3 and .657 percent from the foul line. He earned ACC rookie of the week honors three times. 

Wesley struggled in Notre Dame's four postseason games. He shot a combined 32 percent (17-for-53) and was 0-for-11 on 3-point attempts with 10 turnovers in the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinal loss to Virginia Tech and the three NCAA Tournament games, which ended March 20 with a loss to Texas Tech in the second round of the West Regional in San Diego. 

Afterward, Brey offered a peek into what the offseason would hold for his program, and likely for Wesley. 

"The big thing is, no one has to make that decision fast," Brey said that Sunday night in San Diego. "If everybody wants to test the (NBA) waters, put your name in. Go ahead. I've mentally prepared myself that this is another process now that we're going to be in probably for six weeks, two months, maybe up until summer school. 

"We'll do the best we can trying to figure it (out). Each one of those guys, I need to remember, could be on their own schedule and I'll respect that." 

Notre Dame has not had a first-round NBA draft pick since former Irish All-American guard Jerian Grant went to the New York Knicks in 2015. The Irish have not had a player leave school early since former Marian standout Demetrius Jackson bypassed his senior year in 2016. 

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Jackson was a second-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in June 2016. He played in 26 career NBA games. 

Jackson and former Irish All-American Troy Murphy are the only two to leave Notre Dame early for the NBA under Brey. Murphy was a lottery selection — 14th overall — in 2001 by the Golden State Warriors. 

Murphy, as a sophomore, and former Irish guard Chris Thomas and power forward Luke Harangody, who ended his collegiate career as the second leading scorer and rebounder in program history, all declared for the draft and then returned to school during their collegiate careers. Murphy did it between his sophomore and junior seasons, Harangody the summer before his senior year. Thomas did it between his sophomore and junior seasons. 

Mar 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Blake Wesley (0) waits to enter the game in the second half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Harangody eventually was a second-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2010. Thomas never played in the NBA. 

The 2022 draft is June 23 at Barclays Center in New York. Wesley and his family plan to be there. 

Atkinson decides its time to move on

Irish power forward Paul Atkinson, Jr., won't wait around for an NCAA ruling that might never come.

Atkinson told Brey on Monday that he plans to pursue the next phase of his basketball career, whatever that may entail, rather than possibly return for a fifth year. There was a chance that Atkinson, who sat out the 2020-21 season at Yale after the Ivy League canceled its season, could gain that year back through an NCAA waiver.

Mar 20, 2022; San Diego, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Paul Atkinson Jr. (20) controls the ball against Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Kevin Obanor (0) and forward Bryson Williams (11) in the first half during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Viejas Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA and Ivy League have given zero indication over the last two months that that would be possible.

In his one season at Notre Dame, Atkinson averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. He also shot .587 percent from the field. Atkinson played one of the best games of his career in the double-overtime First Four win over Rutgers. Atkinson finished with 26 points and six rebounds, including the game-winning rebound basket with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Atkinson has accepted an invitation to participate in next month's Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational, an NBA showcase for college seniors.

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI