Western Kentucky center Charles Bassey entering 2021 NBA draft

Bassey dunks right out of his shoe (0:31)

Charles Bassey gets the ball down low and goes up for the two-handed jam, losing his shoe in the process. (0:31)

Western Kentucky junior center Charles Bassey is entering the 2021 NBA draft, he told ESPN on Thursday.

"I'm declaring for the draft and hiring an agent. I'm completely going into this one for sure," Bassey said.

The 6-foot-11 Bassey is the No. 25 prospect in the ESPN Top 100. He averaged 17.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks and made 59% of his 2-point attempts this season. He was named Conference USA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the year, and he is one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. He was also named an honorable mention AP All-American.

Bassey was one of the most improved players in college basketball, bouncing back from a 2019-20 season that ended with surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg after just nine games.

"This year was a blessing, after all the COVID stuff and everything that happened," he said. "Just coming back from my injury to have that kind of season. No one was talking about me. My teammates and coaches gave me the confidence to just come in and play."

Bassey came into Western Kentucky with significant acclaim as a five-star recruit and potential one-and-done candidate after a 13-point, 16-rebound showing at the Nike Hoop Summit game. He was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year but elected to return to school after an uneven showing at the 2019 NBA draft combine.

"I didn't know what to expect my freshman year," said Bassey, who enrolled at Western Kentucky as a 17-year-old. "My maturity is different now. I understand what it takes. I'm 20 years old now. I knew what I had to do. After my injury during the pandemic, I was working 5-6 days a week with my trainer and the strength coach in the school facilities, eight to 10 hours per day. Just to make sure I came back healthy."

Bassey holds plenty of intrigue for NBA teams, with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a 9-foot-2 standing reach that gives him significant potential on the defensive end. He has the ability to step away from the basket and make 3-pointers (converting 18 on the season), along with soft, reliable hands and impressive quickness getting off his feet for rebounds and finishes above the rim. His 2.5 slam dunks per game leads the nation. Bassey demonstrated a higher level of urgency and aggressiveness this season than in the past, posting career highs in virtually every category.

"I just felt that the game was taken away from me watching from the sidelines with my injury," he said. "I just had to go into every game and play every possession. You can't take breaks. That's what you need to do at the next level; you need to be consistent every game."

With all his accomplishments on the court, Bassey says he's also extremely proud of making the Conference USA All-Academic team, after achieving a 3.9 GPA and being named to Western Kentucky's dean's list.

"That's what makes me who I am: my character," he said. "One day I'm going to need to stop playing basketball and get a life after that. You're not going to play forever. I want to get my degree. Just being a good person in the community. Giving back, that's a blessing after blessing."

The NBA announced this week that the 2021 NBA draft will be held on July 29, and it has scheduled its draft combine for June 21, featuring competitive 5-on-5 action "subject to public health conditions."