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'Blessed to play for the Spurs' | Blake Wesley working to turn raw potential into star power in San Antonio

The 19-year-old rookie was the first one-and-done in Notre Dame history. Here's what he did to get to this point, and where he wants to go.

SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs are rebuilding around youth and raw potential, and Blake Wesley might be the rookie on the roster who embodies those qualities the most.

The 19-year-old guard has been developing his game for most of his young life. After a breakout season at Notre Dame and some serious pre-draft work, he showed his skills in a dominant workout in San Antonio that helped the team decide to take him in the first round.

He knows that he needs to continue refining his game and his skills to reach his full potential, and his first steps toward doing that in Silver & Black came at Las Vegas Summer League. Here's what you need to know about where he's been and where's he's headed.

A curtailed college career

Wesley planned on staying at Notre Dame for two years, but he became the first one-and-done prospect in the school's history when San Antonio selected him with the 25th pick in the draft this year. He was the only freshman who played on a team full of seniors for the Fighting Irish, and the adjustment wasn't immediate.

"In the summer when I first got to Notre Dame, I was struggling a bit," he said in a pre-draft interview with Rafael Barlowe. "They were stronger than me, more physical than me. But I got with our strength and conditioning coach, got better, got stronger. I played with six seniors, so that was hard for me as a freshman. I was the only freshman playing, and they taught me a lot. Taught me to keep my head up, be mature, and obviously Mike Bray, good coach, good person, so he taught me a lot."

Wesley had wanted to compete in the EYBL, the nation's top AAU circuit, but couldn't prove himself against the best in the country due to COVID. His college visits were limited for the same reason, so he wound up going to school just minutes from his family's home in South Bend.

He wasn't highly recruited, and Spurs GM Brian Wright said the team felt they were able to land a guy who probably didn't get as much exposure as he should have due to circumstances beyond his control. Wesley uses the feeling of being overlooked to motivate himself.

"Chip on my shoulder every day," he said. "I work out every day with a mindset to just go out there and kill, and be myself."

As a kid in Indiana he tested his mettle against Jaden Ivey, the first guard selected in this year's draft.

"I grew up with him," he said. "We played one-on-one all the time, and it was competitive almost every game."

At 6'5" with a wingspan around 6'9", Wesley has the length to be effective and disruptive at both guard positions. He takes a lot of pride in his defense, and his handle combined with his blinding speed allows him to attack the rim in transition or in half-court sets.

Credit: AP
Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley (0) dribbles against Texas Tech guard Davion Warren (2) during the first half of a second-round NCAA college basketball tournament game, Sunday, March 20, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

He'll be the first to tell you that his jumper needs work, but he'll also pull up confidently from anywhere regardless of what his percentage is. He shot 30% from deep and 47% from inside the arc as a freshman.

Wesley wasn't a starter to begin the season, but he got there after a few games. He broke out in a home game against Top 10 Kentucky in his second start. The unranked Fighting Irish kept it close in front of their home crowd all game. Wesley had a costly turnover in the final minute, but he redeemed himself in the closing seconds. 

He ran pick and roll, drove left, created some space with his off arm, pulled up at the free throw line, and drilled the jumper to break the tie. After a Kentucky miss, he tossed it ahead to a teammate who dunked it at the buzzer, putting an exclamation point on the upset win as the fans in South Bend stormed the court.

He averaged 14 points, 4 rebounds 2 assists and a steal for the season, but he had performances along the way that showed he can do a little bit of everything: a game where he shot 6-11 from three here, a nine-assist game there, three or more steals five times.

Flashes of potential

The main reason Wesley went from not being a top-100 recruit to being a green room guy and top-25 pick isn't on a stat sheet. It's on film when he pops off the screen with something he'll likely do at a high level in the NBA. 

“You are talking about speed and downhill ability and competitiveness, a motor that just keeps going,” Spurs GM Brian Wright said.

Wesley is a three-syllable "a-thuh-lete" who can jump out of the gym and slice his way through the defense. He's the kind of defender who routinely checks the hardest assignment and pressures the ball like someone who grew up trying to contain Jaden Ivey with no help. Off it, he uses his long arms, quickness, awareness and reflexes to stifle scorers like he really cares about it.

His shot mechanics and shot selection both need work, but he's aware. He spoke to Knuckleheads Podcast with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles about working to remove a swiping motion from his shot and going straight up and down. That should make his release quicker, more accurate from side to side, and more repeatable. Those are all good things as he gets as many shots up as he can, building and refining the skill that could be the key to unlocking his full, lofty potential as an NBA player. 

A consistent jump shot at all levels would make a lethal and unguardable pairing alongside his ability to dance on defenders, beat double teams and get to the cup. He's a willing and creative passer, and honing that skill will be prioritized as well. He weighed in at 187 pounds at the NBA combine, which is still slim, but about 15 pounds heavier than he was at the start of last year.

He's been hitting the weights to build muscle and absorb contact better. It's something he knows he'll need.

"It's a different level. Guys are stronger, bigger, faster. It's gonna be tough for me for a couple of months, I gotta get used to it. It's gonna be like college, just gotta get used to it, learn from the best. That's what I wanna do."

“He loves the gym. He wants to work, wants to get better,” Wright said.

A lifetime of development

In order to prepare for NBA basketball, Wesley has been training with Impact Basketball in Las Vegas for the past three years, and for two months before the draft. From Kevin Garnett to Kyle Lowry, Joe Abunassar and his team have helped plenty of successful pros.

"It's crazy because I was here last year, Paul George is over there. Kawhi Leonard was over there, DeMar DeRozan was working out right here. And I'm just looking, I'm like, 'Wow, I'm in the same gym as them.' A lot of celebrities came in here, Floyd Mayweather, Usher," he said. "It's just a blessing because it's like, 'Wow, I am I walking in the same gym as them."

More important to Wesley than the celebrities was the work he was getting in.

"Get up, take my vitamins. Come here, weigh in, lift, after lift (get) on the court, hard work, do everything. After that, we get our protein shake. We relax, eat. At 3 o'clock, we get a lot of reps up. Then after that, just go home, chill, rest my body, getting ready for next day."

"It was a grind," he said. "When I got there my whole mentality changed. I was sleeping good, I was eating good, I was tired after every workout."

Wesley has player development in his DNA.

"My dad used to play at Ball State. We started young, left-hand layups," he said. "They say he shot better than me, which I feel like he did. He can still shoot it."

Credit: AP
Blake Wesley, right, hugs family and friends after being selected 25th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Blake said he only started beating his dad one-on-one when he was 16... so... three years ago.

Asked about an idol who he's watched and can't wait to compete against, he had an answer that will also make you feel very old.

"Probably Ja Morant. His ability to get to the rim, he's fast, he's just gifted. It's gonna be crazy."

He's probably as excited to guard Morant as he is to cross him over. As mentioned before, this is a player who likes testing himself against the best. It's also easy to see that Ja does the thing on offense that Wesley's game resembles the most.

Here's what Wesley said about the specific skills he's been working on this summer:

"Coming off the handoff, making decisions, finishing, and finishing better since I got here. And we've been getting my shot where we're getting reps up and getting consistent."

Standout Spurs workout

After the scouting combine came individual workouts for teams, and he bounced around to do a whole bunch of them. Asked before the draft whether one jumped out as one where he absolutely crushed it, he didn't hesitate.

"For sure, San Antonio," he said, suppressing a smile. "It was a good workout, I feel like I did everything there. I was the best player there. I feel like that was my best, best workout."

If the Spurs' decision with the 25th pick is any indication, that may be correct. Though we'll have to ask his new backcourt partner who came out on top that day.

"I worked out with Malaki Branham, my new teammate, so that's good," he said. "It's crazy to be teammates now, but that workout went good. We competed, I felt like that was the best workout. Me, Malaki, Dyson (Daniels), Wendell (Moore Jr.). Bryce McGowens and Ryan Rollins. We competed. That's what we love to do. So overall, it was good workout."

Credit: Spurs

Wright agreed, clearly, and knows what kind of competitors he found in Wesley and Branham.

“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. “Both were mad after three-on-three games when they weren’t on the same team.”

Summer League lessons

Now, they're going to be on the same team for a long time. Our first glimpse at the new teammates was during Summer League in Vegas.

Wesley got off to a good start in his first game in Silver & Black. He matched Josh Primo with 20 points and 5 assists, shooting 3-4 from deep. He had never put up 20 and 5 in a college game. Seeing Carmelo Anthony was his "welcome to Summer League" moment off the court, but on it, it was his attempt to win the game when the Spurs were down one late.

"The last play of the game, I thought I was fouled, but the refs didn't, so..." he said a few days later.

San Antonio lost 86-85. Next time out against the Warriors, he had 22 points and 5 rebounds, hitting 4-7 from three. Most impressive was his speed and change of direction.

In the next game against the Rockets, he showed some of that inconsistency as his shot came back to Earth. He shot just 3-20 from the floor and 0-7 from beyond the arc. He got blocked multiple times as well. Still, he impressed with the other things he did. He had 14 points, manufacturing 8 at the free throw line, and added 6 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals. He made some high-level passes all Summer League, but some rough turnovers too.

He bounced back against the Hawks, hitting 8-17 from the floor for 20 points to go with 6 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. The Spurs had a 10-point lead when he went to the bench for a quick breather with just over five minutes to play. Less than two minutes later, he came back in to a four-point game. He traveled, missed a three, missed another three, got blocked, and the Spurs fell 87-86.

San Antonio went into their final game 0-4, wanting one win before leaving Sin City. In their final attempt, Wesley shot just 2-17 from the floor, but he added 5 assists, 3 boards, 2 steals and a block without turning it over. In his 30 minutes on the floor, San Antonio outscored Memphis by 9, the best mark on the team.

Clinging to a two-point lead late, Wesley chucked a three he probably shouldn't have and it missed. San Antonio forced a turnover, Wesley got fouled, then hit one of two at the line. The Spurs held on for their first and only Summer League win.

Credit: AP
San Antonio Spurs' Blake Wesley plays against the Houston Rockets during an NBA summer league basketball game Monday, July 11, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

"It was a lot. I'm just blessed to be in this opportunity. Blessed to play for the Spurs. Blessed to be with Malaki, all the guys on the Spurs," he said. "It was fun. I enjoyed it. We won a game. We had to leave Summer League with a win."

If you listen to his interviews, "blessed" and "work" are two of the words he uses most frequently.

The next chapter

Wesley has had dinner with Pop already, and his new coach told him to shoot the floater more and continue to work on finding other guys. If part of his development takes him through Austin and the G League, he's open to it.

"If I've gotta go down to the G League, I'll be like, 'Okay, let's do it, let's get more reps up.' And I'm gonna learn from the other guys there. It's all about learning. I love to learn from other people to make me better. So yeah, G League is good."

That was in response to a question I asked him on draft night, but a lot has changed for the organization since then. Namely, an All-Star point guard with a similar playing style has been traded.

"Dejounte Murray left, so I mean, I feel like I've got an opportunity to come in as a rookie and do what Pop tells me to do," Wesley said.

I asked him what he likes to do during his time off, and he said he's either getting food with his friends or kicking it and watching a movie. He said his favorite movie is Bad Boys II, which came out a few months after he was born in 2003.

"I usually watch the same movies over and over again," he said. "Yeah, I'm one of those guys where if I watch the same movie, I'm glad. I don't wanna watch nothing else, I wanna watch the same movie."

"I'm into Stranger Things too, so I've been watching the new season over and over again," he said. "I just love the vibe it gives me, it gives me like calm, chill."

He laughed when I expressed shock (you'll understand if you've seen the new season of Stranger Things), and said he knows it's a scary show. Maybe once you know where the scary parts are, it's easier to focus on the '80s vibes. He's the same age as the actors who play Mike Wheeler and Dustin Henderson.

Blake Wesley is at the very beginning of his pro career, and he's brimming with potential. He knows there's a lot of work ahead if he wants to reach it, but he feels blessed to be doing it here in San Antonio. 

"Being a part of the Spurs organization is a blessing. A lot of good guys came from out of this organization, a lot of championships, a lot of development. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Ginobili," the rookie said, smiling and shaking his head while talking to KENS 5's Casey Viera.

This will be the first time home won't be South Bend, Indiana, which he notes is 20 hours away by car.

"It's crazy, but it's also a blessing at the same time. It's also good because I'm in a new city, new environment, get to learn from other people, get to see what the city's like."

He has a tattoo for his mom, and his parents are gong to come live with him in San Antonio for a few months.

"At the same time, I've got to be my own self," he said. "But I'm still gonna be there for them, and they're still gonna be there for me."

It's been a long journey to get here, and he's well aware of what he needs to do from age 19 and beyond as a member of the Spurs. 

"I'm just excited to be here," he said. "(Fans) may not know me, but I'm a funny guy, outgoing, love fans. Get along with everybody. So, Spurs fans are gonna love me."

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