Freshman Blake Wesley 'ready to start my next journey,' will leave Notre Dame to enter NBA draft

Notre Dame freshman Blake Wesley will enter the 2022 NBA draft, saying he has no plans to return to the Fighting Irish.

"I plan on staying in the draft," he told ESPN on Wednesday. "I'm in a great position. I'm ready for the NBA. I'm ready to start my next journey."

Wesley, the No. 20 prospect in the ESPN 100, was named second-team All-ACC and all-rookie team after averaging 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.3 steals in 29.3 minutes per game this season.

He emerged as a dynamic threat for the Fighting Irish team that turned its season around in ACC play and ultimately won two NCAA tournament games.

"I had a good year," Wesley said. "Coach [Mike] Brey put a lot of confidence in me and helped prepare me for what's ahead. He pushed me every day and provided me with the freedom and spacing to show my talent."

Wesley dramatically exceeded expectations as a freshman. He was considered a fringe top-100 prospect in the high school class of 2021 when he committed to Notre Dame out of South Bend's James Whitcomb Riley High School, but he quickly earned a spot in Brey's starting lineup while establishing himself as one of the most productive freshman guards in the country.

"I was slept on my entire high school career," Wesley said. "I was blessed to have my parents by my side telling me that the rankings don't matter, being a McDonald's All American doesn't matter. I knew that if the EYBL hadn't been canceled after junior year of high school because of the pandemic, things would have looked different for me. It all worked out great in the end."

Wesley was the first player from a South Bend public school to stay local and sign with Notre Dame men's basketball since 1985.

"The South Bend community means so much to me," Wesley said. "My mom is on the school board here, and it was important to help connect the city with the school."

Notre Dame got off to a slow start, losing five of seven games in nonconference play, but finished 15-5 in the ACC after finding a rhythm on the offensive end that carried through to NCAA tournament wins over Rutgers and Alabama. The Fighting Irish's rapid improvement on the offensive end came shortly after Wesley's promotion to the starting lineup. The 6-foot-5, 19-year-old guard was the X factor in many of the team's biggest victories, giving the Irish much-needed shot-creation, playmaking and, as the season moved on, defensive versatility.

Wesley's ability to beat defenders off the dribble with his powerful first step, long strides getting to the rim and finishing ability are highly intriguing to scouts at 6-5 with an NBA-ready frame, especially since he just turned 19 two weeks ago. He looked far more competitive defensively as the year went on, using his quickness, length and solid instincts to add value on and off the ball, making plays in the passing lanes, blowing up handoffs and proving more than capable containing the ball in one-on-one situations. The trajectory he's on, transitioning from little-known high school recruit to potential lottery pick in a span of a year, gives him significant upside to tap into as his NBA career moves.

"I'm a tireless worker," Wesley said. "I rise to the occasion. Having such a veteran team alongside me was really helpful. We exceeded everyone's expectations. I'm a 6-5 point guard, and there's no one else in the NBA draft like me. People tell me I play like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I study him a lot. I don't know that people realize how well I can shoot the ball."

With a strong pre-draft process, it's not out of the question that Wesley might get looks in the lottery, especially if he shoots the ball well in private workouts.

The NBA draft combine will be May 16-22 in Chicago, and the draft will be June 23 in New York.

Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service used by NBA, NCAA and international teams.