Charles Bassey: There will be giants

This profile was originally published on Busting Brackets February 8, 2021

VITALS / STATS
Lagos, Nigeria 10/28/00 — 6’11+235lbs / 7’3 Wingspan-9’2 Standing reach
Junior / RS Sophomore at Western Kentucky: 2020 C-USA Pre-Season POY
2020–21 Season: 17.8pts, 12.2rbs, 3.43blk / 11 double-doubles (16 games)

BACKGROUND/BIO

If you have ever watched Charles Bassey on a basketball court, everything suggests that he’s about to join a proud tradition of Nigeria’s big men formed in US Colleges that got drafted and got to play in the NBA. The legend of Akem Olajuwon started the trend in the 80s at the University of Houston, and since then other Nigerian-born student-athletes have followed the path. Names such as Michael Olowakandi, Obinna Ekezie, Festus Ezeli, and just last year Precious Achiuwa and Udoka Azubuike.

Bassey is also the perfect example of what the “Trust the Process” motto means to be. But the process wasn’t meant to be easy for this former five star who leads the nation in shot-blocking and rebounding. Charles has gone places at Western Kentucky, but he’s had to work for it every step of the way since he was first spotted selling fried chicken in the streets of his hometown Lagos.

He moved to the USA two years later, at 14, on the back of an MVP in the Giants of Africa Camp (organized by Toronto Raptors’ executive Masai Ujiri). Bassey played HS in Texas first and then for the Ohio Aspire Academy, collecting more MVP awards and invitations to prestigious international events such as Jordan Brand Classic, Basketball Without Borders, and Nike Hoop Summit.

Amid some eligibility questions, Charles reclassified and committed to Rick Stansbury’s Hilltoppers in the summer of 2018, passing on a fair share of genuine Power-5 offers. After a solid freshman campaign and the customary ‘test the waters’ procedure in the Draft, Bassey returned to Bowling Green. Hard luck struck him early on in his sophomore year with a fractured tibia in a game against Arkansas. He had surgery on his left leg and was out for the season.

Injuries are a bitch, but this one was also a probe of extreme resilience in the middle of a global pandemic. It took Bassey almost 10 months to get back on the gym with full-contact activities, regaining sensations, and doing what he enjoys most: to play hoops.

GAME AND OUTLOOK

Charles Bassey’s performances with WKU over the season suggest he could very well suit up for the pros and produce the goods tomorrow. He’s built like a tank, especially his upper-body: the tremendous frame and wide shoulders combined with freakish wingspan, mobility and muscle to play through contact which would be hard to match up at any level of basketball. On top of those traits, Bassey’s post-injury fitness and motor have grown hand in hand with his overall athleticism and quickness, as a result of his conditioning and all the hard work put on during the pandemic.

Overall, this season Charles’ pop, speed on the open court, and body control in traffic look much better, and ready for the next step. Besides, his physical profile bodes well with what Rick Stansbury has assembled at Bowling Green: Bassey is the only Hilltopper above 6’7 in the roster and has become the reference on both ends.

He’s been well supported by a backcourt line lead by Taveion Hollingsworth and by 6’5 Carson Williams’ versatility and balance in the forward spot. At this stage it would be difficult to understand Bassey’s game without Williams providing spacing and toughness, as well as swapping frontcourt roles in offense now and then.

Let’s take now a closer look at Charles Bassey’s skill set and NBA Draft prospects.

DEFENSE

For NBA front offices seeking a center, Charles Bassey’s biggest selling point clearly comes on his own end as elite rim protector, all-around D anchor and rebounding force. Not every day you get a guy with his size, instincts and athletic tools who boasts a 13Blks % in college play (by barttovick). He mans the paint and moves with ease in short distances finding his way in almost every rotation from the medium to the low post, such a scary presence to have around the basket. Wingspan, balance, timing and lift are the traits behind Bassey’s quasi supernatural shot-blocking skills, which are sharpened by his court-awareness and the rare talent to keep the ball in-bounds on most of his rejections. Moreover Bassey’s defensive value goes way beyond spectacular blocks. He’s equally effective contesting drives in the zone and changing shots just with his mere presence.

In Post-D Bassey tends to stand his ground from behind and hold matchups with the chest forward instead of going to the side or beating them to the spot. His not so low centre of gravity and brute strength gets in full fashion here, and he uses his length to disturb the post pass as well. Rick Stansbury has learned to maximize Bassey’s defensive upside with a vast array of zones, from the usual 2–3 to the adjustable 1–3–1, where Charles performs always as a sort of ‘eraser man’ in the middle while teammates jump over passing lanes and funnel drivers towards Bassey counting on him to clean up and win back the basketball. Rebounding ability and particularly under his glass, has been another area of growth for Bassey in relation to his previous seasons (from 24.5 to 30.8) and shows and well developed box out technique built upon communication and spatial awareness, which also makes the most of his strong shoulders, low hips and wide feet.

In PNR defense, WKU favourite coverage has understandably been drop. Bassey has worked on his footspeed, backpedalling the channels and keeping himself between the ball handler and the bucket. In the process he’s improved his mobility north-south and the timing of his reactions. All the same WKU has been careful to save his solo-big man cheap and clumsy fouls, as Bassey hasn’t been asked to step-out of the paint much or hedge and recover in nightly basis either. This leaves a few questions on how he will defend in space at the next level. Nevertheless we’ve seen some bits of Charles in switches over the season. A handful of situations where he flexes his lower-body and puts to work his footwork in the perimeter in addition to his massive frame and length. There no question that he will be asked to do so regularly with the pros, and teams will try to get the best of him in space. With work to do in that regard, Charles has shown to be well equipped to react and deal with those situations. While he’s not extremely quick turning his hips, Bassey can still keep his balance and cover ground with long steps making his length count as a formidable threat even from behind the driver.

OFFENSE

While we could argue that Charles Bassey is still learning the ropes in offense, he has cemented his All-American defensive displays with a dominant role and production for WKY in a variety of ways. Let’s check them all.

Post Up / PNR / Rebounding

Bassey is particularly efficient in post-ups and paint finishes, carving space close to the basket and dunking any entry passes and dimes that go his way. He leverages his size and power to establish position, sucking-in defenses and opening the floor for his teammates. Bassey’s touches down-low are key for the Hilltoppers and his big man gravity takes the main stage: he’s equally dangerous as lob target, as cutter from the dunker spot and in ball-screen offense.

Versatile in the PNR and DHO, Bassey will go for the hard screen or slip the pick to his advantage, asking for the ball and quick to execute as roll-man. In the post Bassey is more of a ‘know-how’ guy with huge hands and touch. He outmuscles and beats matchups with the jump-hook moving across the key from the right block, or sealing and finishing with his preferred right hand in the left block. Bassey’s footwork and fakes are improvable though, as he relies on his physical advantage and bits of raw explosiveness. All the same, his 74% at the rim with only half of those buckets on the back of an assist are quite impressive (by hoop-math.com).

Bassey’s other source of scoring at the rim are the second-chances, tips and put backs he gets crashing the glass. 22.4% of Charles’ points at the hoop come this way. While he’s by now a monster under his own board, he’s shown his feel and dominance in the offensive glass with 3.5 per game. Bassey always follows his own misses, catches the ball with both hands and doesn’t need to bring it down to finish the play emphatically. Being a solid two-feet leaper, he possesses a terrific second jump that allows him to tip the ball or just keep the play alive. Having such a beast in the roster helps as a sort of insurance policy for WKY’s shooters and drivers alike, increasing the team’s confidence and FG%.

Shooting & Dribble

Charles Bassey’s FTs clip around 75% in his WKY career is not only superb for a big man, but also an obvious hint that expanding his range will come together at some point in the future. It’s still early days, but that future seems to be here already, driven by the many hours Bassey spent on his own or with a personal trainer in the gym during his recovery. Enough time to grow his 3pt shooting volume to almost two attempts per game at 29%. His sound mechanics proves it was time well spent. Charles has a clean one-motion stroke with wrist and elbow perfectly lined up under the basketball and a squared base with little lift on his jump shot. His release is smooth although he needs time and space to get it going and mostly does so off the catch from the frontal-three spot. But in general, results and execution are encouraging.

Lately he’s even brought jab steps and pump fakes into play as he adds a reliable Pick and Pop threat to his package. Bassey’s shooting includes the midrange, notably with the baseline jumper, which has upgraded his options on-the-ball. To be fair Bassey had displayed his handles in different youth events before, but his improved shot and face-up ability allows him to take on other big men off the bounce with crossovers and log steps more and more. He won’t settle for less; all the way to the rim for easy layups or drawing contact for trips to the charity stripe.

Transition / Passing

Bassey’s athleticism and fluidity are at their best in the open court when he runs the floor hard wreaking havoc into the unsettled defenses. He’s extremely powerful and light for a 6´11 guy, and can put the ball on the deck for a grab-and-go action, able to control his body in traffic and skilled enough to finish the fast-break with timed layups.

Anyway, Bassey’s habits in transition are well known by now: he usually operates as an off-the-ball target that secures the rebound, kicks it to the ball handler and owns the central lane at speed. High motor big by trade, he gets rewarded for all his efforts with neat dishes and spectacular lobs; it’s all about savage dunks and breath-taking posters down the hill.

Although Bassey holds a record of 2.3 TOs per game and his passing ability is still work in progress, he’s shown intriguing sings as a passer and some talent to read the game. We shouldn’t expect him to become a playmaking 5, but Bassey has developed an effective high-low partnership with Carson Williams feeding the 6’5 forward regularly with lobs from the top of the key. His next step in this regard should be developing vision in short-roll situations and kicking the ball to standstill shooters when he gets doubled in the low-blocks. If those come consistently and he can run some high-post offense feeding backdoors and cutters, his modern-big man prospects will go a long way.

NBA FIT AND EXPECTATIONS

Charles Bassey appears in most mainstream big boards in the 20s/ back of the 1st Round range as of today. Naturally he’s seen an unique and ready-made prospect for the NBA because of his D impact. The high energy big/anchor archetype is fully translatable and most franchises would make use of his speed, reactivity and athleticism even if it’s only for short periods. Can Bassey outgrow that primary role and become a versatile big man who creates offense in different ways? Is his shot here to stay? And has he any real upside as a passer?

It seems Bassey will initially earn PT thanks to his defensive prowess and bankable skills (rim protection, rebounding…), then exploit his mobility to stay on the floor a bit longer. In the other end, even if he’s just asked to go to work down low and cut TOs, his impact should be significant. It goes without saying that shooting from behind the arc in the stretch-5 mould is Bassey’s swing factor as a pro. Shooting consistency is a must. Passing and improved vision would be the ice on the cake.

With all things being said, we shouldn’t forget about Bassey’s feel for the game and strong mindset. He’s gone lengths to be where he is at, crossed oceans being just a child, played through the unknown and the tiredness, beaten injuries and adversity, worked always the extra mile. And he’s lead WKU basketball with facts, not just rankings and stars. The process makes you mature.

The outcome of a handful of CBB awards await resolution at the end of the season, but surely Bassey’s best award would be going in a deep run in March Madness with WKU. The Hilltoppers boast an impressive non-conference resume with wins over Alabama, Louisville and Memphis, but they might need to win the C-USA championship after some stumbles in league play. Whether Bassey takes the central stage in the National Tournament or during his rookie season in the NBA it’s easy to forget he’s just a 20yo boy from Lagos. There will be plenty of challenges ahead and other giants to face in the court. Just don’t act like you are surprised when he comes towering above them.

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