Bassey meets expectations in freshman season, regardless of next step

WKU freshman center Charles Bassey (23) slams home a dunk over North Texas Zachary Thomas (24) in day two of the C-USA Tournament at the Ford Center at The Star march 14 in Frisco, Texas. Bassey accumulated 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in the 67-51 Hilltopper victory. 

Alec Jessie

WKU men’s basketball had many ups and downs throughout the 2018-19 season. However, there was one constant: Charles Bassey.

The freshman center came to WKU with high expectations and exceeded all of them, dominating throughout his freshman year. He racked up 10 Conference USA Freshman of the Week Awards, he was the C-USA Freshman of the Year, he was selected on the All-C-USA First Team, he was on the C-USA All-Defensive Team and the C-USA All-Freshman Team. He set the program’s freshman block record, and he scored the second-most points by a freshman at WKU. He finished as a top-five finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award.

The Nigeria native played the last of his high school ball at Aspire Academy in Louisville. Originally in the class of 2019, Bassey elected to reclassify up and enroll last June. The big man picked the Hilltoppers as his team of choice on June 13, 2018.

Bassey was the highest-ranked recruit to ever choose WKU. He was the sixth-ranked player in the entire country and the second-best center, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

After he committed Aspire Academy head coach Jeremy Kipness said he believed the center had all of the tools already to be successful at the next level.

“What’s so special about him is the fact that he’s such a team player,” Kipness said in February 2018. “When we need a bucket, he’s going to create and finish. But he’s such a good passer, which opens up so many opportunities for everyone outside on the perimeter.”

The five-star prospect came on campus with major promise. Although he had never played a game of college basketball and was only 17 when he first enrolled, Bassey garnered arguably the most hype of any player to ever step on campus.

Preseason competition showed glimpses of what was to come from Bassey. The center recorded double-doubles in each of the two exhibition games, including a 24-point, 11-rebound and two-block outing against Kentucky Wesleyan.

With the regular season underway, Bassey set the tone for the rest of the season in game one. Squaring off with 25th-ranked Washington, he recorded a double-double against senior center Noah Dickerson.

This would become a common theme for Bassey. He showed up in the biggest matchups throughout the season, averaging 17.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.4 steals against notable stars like Ethan Happ, Daniel Gafford, Tacko Fall, Sagaba Konate and Dickerson. WKU had a winning record in those big games, going 3-2.

Even with the rest of the team plagued with inconsistencies, the freshman phenom still produced. Bassey averaged 14.7 points and 10 rebounds in his first five college games, which included a win over West Virginia but losses to Indiana State and Central Florida.

Bassey’s strong play continued into Conference USA play. In the first of three matchups with Old Dominion, the freshman center scored 19 points, including a couple 3-pointers, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Bassey dominated the competition in C-USA play in addition to non-conference. He held fellow star freshman center Efe Odigie to eight points and four rebounds while tallying 17 points and 12 rebounds himself.

The freshman center was the anchor for WKU and helped lead the Hilltoppers to a second-place finish in C-USA standings with an 11-7 record in conference play.

Head coach Rick Stansbury said he was proud of what Bassey accomplished at WKU.
“I’m proud for him,” Stansbury said prior to the conference tournament. “He came in and made the adjustment. He’s got a long way to go, but for him to come in and accomplish what he’s done, he deserves a lot of credit for that.”

The Hilltoppers fell in the conference tournament championship over the weekend to ODU, but Bassey was a major part in getting WKU there in the first place. He recorded double-doubles in two of the three games and played a huge part in WKU’s defensive performances, which held all opponents under 42 percent shooting from the floor.

Bassey said his time on the Hill helped him grow as a player and person.

“I’ve got teammates that help teach me,” Bassey said after the loss to ODU. “I’ve just tried to learn from teammates, learn from coaches, learn the good stuff and good ways. It was a good season for me and for my teammates too.”

With the Hilltoppers’ season coming to a close, Bassey will have a decision to make regarding his future with the program. The freshman could elect to declare for the NBA Draft and sign an agent, declare for the draft and not sign an agent immediately or return to school without considering the draft. Bassey has until April 21 to declare for the draft and until June 10 to withdraw his name should he declare.

Bassey’s stock is all over the place at the moment. Jeremy Woo of Sports

Illustrated has Bassey ranked 40th overall on his board, while ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has Bassey at 58th overall. has Bassey all the way up to 15th on its board.

Bassey said he has not begun the process of making this important decision. “I don’t know about that yet,” Bassey said after Saturday’s defeat. “Right now I’m just with my teammates.”

Regardless of what the big man decides to do, Bassey is sure to go down in WKU lore as arguably the best freshman to ever set foot in Diddle Arena.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.