Spurs draft pick Blake Wesley from the hardwood to the gridiron

6/28/2022 12:29:00 AM

With Blake Wesley, football’s loss could be Spurs’ gain

With Blake Wesley, football’s loss could be Spurs’ gain

After an injury forced Blake Wesley to give up football in junior high, he fashioned...

Blake Wesley addresses the media as San Antonio Spurs general manager Brian Wright host an introductory press conference with Spurs draft picks Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley at AT&T Center on Saturday, June 25, 2022.Malaki Branham address the media as Blake Wesley listens at an introductory press conference with Spurs draft picks at AT&T Center on Saturday, June 25, 2022.Malaki Branham address the media as Blake Wesley listens at an introductory press conference with Spurs draft picks at AT&T Center on Saturday, June 25, 2022.John Calipari tweeted that Sharpe would not play for Kentucky last season since he was “committed to bettering himself and our team in practice this year and being better prepared to lead us next season.

Ronald Cortes / Contributor Spurs rookie Blake Wesley grew up in South Bend, Ind., which meant his athletic dreams were all but implanted in utero.But it wasn’t until the two one-and-done 19-year-old guards faced each other during their private workouts with the Spurs that Wright learned just how aggressive they could be as shot creators and defenders.He wanted to play receiver for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, because of course he did.“Not only did we hear it when we called around and asked about them, but we saw it firsthand in this building when they came in for their workout,” Wright said at the Spurs’ practice facility late Thursday after he used the 20th overall pick to select Branham and the 25th to grab Wesley.Fighting Irish fandom was a matter of both nature and nurture for local kids like Wesley, whose childhood Saturday soundtrack was inundated by the steady roar emanating from legendary Notre Dame Stadium just up the road.Seeking to test their endurance and stamina, NBA teams put draft prospects through intense drills at private workouts.“He had a love for the game, and most of his friends were playing football,” said Wesley’s father, Derrick.

“He was a really good receiver.That was certainly the case when Wright watched Branham and Wesley — both of whom stand 6-foot-5 and weigh in the range of 180-185 pounds — go after it.That was certainly the case when Wright watched Branham and Wesley — both of whom stand 6-foot-5 and weigh in the range of 180-185 pounds — go after it.” When Wesley eventually got his big break, however, it pushed him full-time toward a different sport.In the eighth grade, Wesley fractured his right thumb moonlighting at quarterback for his junior high team.Wesley, a former Notre Dame standout, said he entered the contests thinking the backcourt-heavy Spurs were trying to decide whether to take him or Branham, an Ohio State product, with one of their two nonlottery picks.That proved to be his “come to Touchdown Jesus” moment.“I felt like we was competing for a spot, so I was going extra hard and going after him,” Wesley said.“My mom was like, ‘If you want to play football in high school, you can,’ ” said Wesley, the last of three 19-year-olds the Spurs selected in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft.Besides Branham and Wesley, four other prospects who wound up going in the first round participated in the scrimmages, including Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr.

“I wasn’t really confident in it.So I was like, ‘No, I’m just going to stick with basketball.26.26.’” What might have been a future loss for Notre Dame football coach Marcus Freeman became a gain for Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey.It could turn out to be the Spurs’ gain, too.“They had a lot more hype than me, so I wanted to go at them,” he said of Branham, Moore and the other prospects.A 6-foot-5 combo guard, Wesley went on to don the navy and gold of his beloved Fighting Irish — on the hardwood, not the gridiron.“I have a chip on my shoulder every time I step on the court.

After a freshman campaign in which the led Notre Dame in scoring at 14.” Branham also relished the chance to make the most of the audition.4 points per game and earned second-team all-ACC honors, Wesley became the first player in school history to declare for the NBA draft after one season.In taking Wesley 25th overall, the Spurs made him the first Notre Dame player selected in the first round since Jerian Grant went 19th overall in 2015.“We had a lot of good guys in there.“We had a lot of good guys in there.NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 23: Blake Wesley hugs family after being drafted with the 25th overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs during the 2022 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 23, 2022 in New York City.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.The Spurs had Branham pegged as a “midteens pick, maybe late lottery,” said Wright, who added that the club was prepared to trade up to get him.

(Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images) Arturo Holmes, Staff / Getty Images It marked quite a rise for a player who began his lone college season coming off the bench.“We were just fortunate he was there at 20,” Wright said.“Nobody thought I could do it, to be one and done at Notre Dame,” Wesley said.The Spurs’ envision Branham developing into a three-level scorer, Wright said.“Usually, some guys are there two years and then they’re gone.” Wesley’s basketball career to date has been hallmarked by a feeling of being overlooked.Same goes for Wesley.Same goes for Wesley.His profile does not match that of the typical one-and-done NBA draft pick.

Wesley was a four-star recruit coming out of South Bend’s Riley High School in 2021, but not a blue-chip one.“And he loves the gym.He was not a McDonald’s All-American.He wants to work, wants to get better.He was not invited to play in the prestigious Nike Hoops Summit or Jordan Brand Classic, tournaments that often send prospects rocketing up NBA teams’ draft boards.” torsborn@express-news.Like many prep players in the class of 2021, Wesley also had his senior season at Riley shut down by COVID-19.Spurs general manager Brian Wright believes all of the above conspired to ensure Wesley was still available at No.

25 on Thursday.“He is a kid who, if you are not in the pandemic and he is seen on the circuit a little bit more, you never know where he would be rated as a player,” Wright said.Despite his early foray with football, Wesley comes from a basketball family.Derrick Wesley played four years at Ball State from 1984 to 1988, his final season spent under renowned coach Rick Majerus.A 6-foot-3 guard, Derrick Wesley left as the third-leading scorer in Ball State history and has been inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

“He’s got a lot more special gifts than I had,” Derrick Wesley said of his son.“I was more of a fundamental guy.I started from the ground up because I didn’t have the athleticism.His game is very different.” That is not to say Derrick Wesley did not teach his son the fundamentals of the game.

“He taught me to be a great all-around player,” Blake Wesley said.“He taught me to rebound, defend and just work hard.” Thursday, Wesley joined a teenaged Spurs draft class that included Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan, selected ninth overall, and Ohio State’s Maliki Branham, who was chosen 20th.In spending the third of their three first-round picks on Wesley, the Spurs are gambling on his outsized development potential.Wesley’s raw athletic skills are self-evident.

Among the attributes the Spurs first noticed about Wesley, Wright lists “speed, downhill ability and competitiveness,” as well as “a motor that just keeps going.” In one season at Notre Dame, Wesley proved himself to be a slippery and creative scorer, especially in pick-and-roll situations.He shot a mere 30.3 percent from 3-point range, however, a rate that he will look to improve as he graduates to the NBA.“My best skill is really defending,” Wesley said.

“I love to defend and guard the best players and impact that game that way.Not many people do that and not many people say that.” Wesley arrives in San Antonio eager for the next step on a basketball journey that began in earnest six years ago on a junior high football field in Indiana.With the starting quarterback injured, Wesley was asked to fill in — somewhat against his will.“He told me, ‘Dad they don’t block,’” Derrick Wesley said.

“That’s why I don’t want to be a quarterback, they don’t block.’” Wesley’s worries proved to be well founded.He wound up breaking the thumb on his throwing hand, which also happened to be his shooting hand.The injury caused Wesley to miss basketball season.In doing so, it set him on a path to make basketball his life.

In Thursday’s NBA draft, the Spurs became next in line to reap the benefits.Derrick Wesley sent his son into the NBA with one final piece of fatherly advice: “Just be yourself and be special.” “He doesn’t have to be like Dad or any other NBA player,” Derrick Wesley said.“We just want to see the best Blake Wesley.” jmcdonald@express-news.


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