With just eight selections remaining in the 2021 NBA draft Thursday evening, Charles Bassey’s name still hadn’t been called. That’s when the Philadelphia 76ers made their third and final pick of the night at 53rd overall.
When the 20-year-old heard his name announced, he became just the 36th player in Western Kentucky University men’s basketball history to be drafted – and the first since 2010 – but that’s far from the most impressive thing about his story.
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Bassey was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and primarily played soccer as a child. At 12 years old, and reportedly standing 6-foot-1, everything changed.
From Fried Chicken, Small Flip-Flops to Big Numbers at Western Kentucky
Still a pre-teen, yet approaching the height of some NBA point guards, Bassey was working as a street vendor selling fried chicken in Lagos to help his family financially, when he was discovered.
“He had no basketball background. Then one day, a local youth coach noticed how big he was as a 12-year-old,” Jared Zwerling of CloseUp360 wrote earlier this month. “Two years later, the big man became the MVP of Giants of Africa, a program founded by Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors’ president of basketball operations.”
Bassey – now 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds – moved to the United States when he was 14 and continued to play basketball at St. Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio, Texas. Already nearing his current height as a freshman, Bassey put up monster numbers as a freshman and led his team to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) championship game.
Prior to his sophomore year, he was ruled ineligible and the school filed an appeal. He took the court in the season-opener however and the team’s head coach was fired for playing him.
When the team withdrew from the TAPPS and joined another league, Bassey was eligible again. Before his junior year, he transferred to DeSales High School in Louisville, Kentucky and played for the Aspire Basketball Academy.
As a five-star recruit and one of the top centers in the class of 2018, he committed to play at Western Kentucky in June of that year.
What Could Bassey Bring to the Sixers?
In 72 career games – all starts – over three seasons for the Hilltoppers, Bassey averaged a double-double of 15.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest, while shooting 59.6% from the field and 76.8% from the free throw line and adding averaging 2.6 blocks as well. He racked up tons of accolades in college, including the Conference USA (CUSA) Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards for the 2018-2019 campaign.
He was named to the 2019-2020 Wooden Award Preseason team, along with the likes of possible future teammate Tyrese Maxey, as well as Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, Saddiq Bey, and Tyrese Haliburton. However, just 10 games into his second season, Bassey suffered a tibial plateau fracture and missed the rest of the year.
The Nigerian bounced back in a huge way last season though, ranking fifth in the CUSA in points per game (17.6), first in rebounds (11.6), first in blocks (3.1), and first in field-goal percentage (59.0%), on his way to being named the CUSA Player of the Year.
College basketball analyst Jay Bilas said during Thursday night’s draft that the Sixers may have landed a huge steal in the late stages of the event.
Sixers president Daryl Morey certainly had high praise for Bassey following the team’s selection and can see him fitting in with the team. Now that the 20-year-old has officially been drafted into the NBA, the next step for him, as well as No. 28 draft pick Jaden Springer and 50th selection Filip Petrusev, will be the NBA Summer League, which takes place from August 8 through August 17th.