Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
Like the No. 9 overall recruit, Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey?
Coming off of a 27-win season, third-year coach Rick Stansbury continued to build his program at Western Kentucky with the commitment of Charles Bassey, a five-star, 6’10”, 220-pound center from Nigeria. Bassey, who spent last season playing for the Aspire Basketball Academy in Louisville, had previously been ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the 2019 class by the 247Sports composite rankings before he reclassified to join the Hilltoppers in 2018. WKU’s incoming class of freshmen includes four-star guard Dalano Banton, forward Galen Smith, guard Jeremiah Gambrell and Bassey. Auburn grad transfer Desean Murray, the Tigers’ former starting power forward, also joins the Hilltoppers this season. Bassey, the only RSCI ranked recruit in their class (No. 9 overall), gives Stansbury momentum for future recruiting. His reclassification, signing and enrollment bring a big man rated among the nation’s best prospects to Bowling Green a year earlier than anticipated, and brings Hennssy Auriantal, Bassey’s legal guardian, to WKU as well as Stansbury’s new assistant coach.
The Hilltoppers are coming off of a strong season in a not-so-strong conference. While Bassey will likely be the most talented player in the C-USA, the caliber of WKU’s opponents might impact how he’s viewed against his major-conference peers when it comes to 2019 draft potential. Regardless, Bassey brings tremendous talent to Bowling Green and will be an immediate starter for Western Kentucky, barring injury. He brings much needed height under the basket as the tallest player on Stansbury’s squad and will get points in the paint, which the team will need.
Although Western Kentucky returns a pair of double-figure scorers in Taveion Hollingsworth (13.3 ppg) and Lamonte Bearden (11.8 ppg), they did lose their leading scorer in senior forward Justin Johnson and best playmaker in starting guard Darius Thompson, who was a 2017 graduate transfer from Virginia. The addition of high-profile transfer Murray and a recruiting class headlined by Bassey should mean more points on the board overall, even in light of the team’s losses.
Bassey averaged 19.4 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game last season as a junior at Aspire while shooting 56.5% from the field. A center, the big man plays his best right at the rim. He’s aggressive on the rebound and an adept defender who’s developing his offensive game. Between Bassey and Murray, WKU’s new frontcourt should help the Hilltoppers fill the scoresheet at the four and the five, respectively.
Stansbury enters his third year as WKU’s head coach and his first year with a top-ranked recruit on the team’s roster (a year ago, five-star WKU enrollee Mitchell Robinson withdrew in late August and forewent college). Bassey significantly boosts the team’s outlook for the 2018–19 season by bringing an unmatched caliber of talent to Bowling Green and the C-USA. He will certainly star for this year’s Hilltoppers alongside Murray and will help the team continue to trend upward. The team showed huge improvements last season from Stansbury’s first with the program and the addition of Bassey and the rest of WKU’s freshmen should mean continued progress. A Conference USA title and potential postseason play are certainly in reach for this team with its revamped roster.