NBA rookie had found an early role, and groove, as backup in San Antonio

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Oct 30, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  San Antonio Spurs guard Blake Wesley (14) dribbles against Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell (0) in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

In a quick 48-hour span, former Notre Dame and Riley High School guard Blake Wesley experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows as an NBA rookie. 

Two nights and one game after scoring 10 points in his professional basketball debut, the 19-year-old Wesley suffered a left knee injury that will keep him sidelined for an extended period. A source close to the San Antonio Spurs guard told the Tribune early Monday evening that Wesley suffered a torn medial collateral ligament during the second quarter of Sunday’s win over Minnesota. 

Wesley will be sidelined for the next six to eight weeks. 

Cutting through the lane, Wesley bumped knees with veteran Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels. Wesley had his left leg planted at an odd angle at the time of the collision. The 6-foot-9, 185-pound McDaniels was called for a foul. The 6-4, 185-pound Wesley remained on the court for a moment massaging his left knee/leg before shooting two free throws. He attempted to backpedal on defense. He played Minnesota’s ensuing offensive possession before the Spurs called timeout. 

Wesley limped off the court immediately for the trainer’s room and was ruled out for the rest of the game. X-rays performed at the AT&T Center on Sunday were negative. An MRI performed Monday revealed the MCL tear. 

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters he'd hoped Wesley had suffered only a bone bruise.

A first-round draft pick in June (25th overall), Wesley played in all 35 games and made 28 starts in his only season at Notre Dame. He led the Irish in scoring (14.4 ppg) and became the first player in program history to play one year of college before opting for the NBA. 

Wesley did not play in any of San Antonio’s first three games to start the season. That included the Spurs’ only visit to Indiana, Wesley’s home state, against the Pacers. The next night in Philadelphia, he was inactive for the game against the 76ers. Early last week, he and fellow first-round draft pick Malaki Branham (Ohio State) were sent back to San Antonio to begin work with the G-League affiliate Austin Spurs. 

"Blake and Malaki, I don't think even know what the capitol of Texas is," Popovich said after Sunday's game. "And I don't care."

Both were expected to spend an extended time in Austin − the state capitol. That plan changed. Quickly. 

After the parent club was hit by a rash of injuries and illness, then announced the shocking release of former lottery pick Josuha Primo, Wesley and Branham rejoined San Antonio late last week. In 15 minutes off the bench against the Bulls, Wesley shot 4-for-6 from the floor, including his first professional dunk. He also had four assists. 

Working as the team’s backup point guard to starter Tre Jones, Wesley scored six points with two rebounds in eight minutes against Minnesota before being injured. 

Expected to be one of the worst teams in the league this season, San Antonio is off to a surprising 5-2 start.

"They're young enough, they don't know any better," Popovich said.

Wesley is one of two former Notre Dame players currently in the NBA. Former Irish swingman Pat Connaughton, now in his eighth season and fifth with the Milwaukee Bucks, is sidelined with a calf injury. He was expected to miss the first three weeks of the regular season.

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.