Tyrese Maxey remembers battling Charles Bassey in high school in Texas. At the time, Bassey was considered the best player in the state. Maxey was second.
“I didn’t like him, because he was ranked above me. Nah, I’m just playing,” Maxey joked with reporters after the Sixers’ 103-89 win over the Nuggets. “He was great.”
On Thursday night in Denver, we saw a glimpse of why Bassey was so highly thought of back then as the still shorthanded Sixers recorded a convincing road win. The second-round pick and Western Kentucky product played a huge role in slowing down reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and providing the Sixers with much-needed energy off the bench.
If you ask Maxey, this is nothing new.
“What you saw tonight is what he did in high school — block shots, rebound, run the floor, tip dunks,” Maxey said. “The activity that he has is remarkable and he showed up tonight.”
Bassey did indeed provide those things with three blocks, seven rebounds (four offensive boards) and even adding a rookie career-high 12 points in a little over 19 minutes. This after the 21-year-old played 25 minutes combined through the first 15 games of the season.
Like Maxey a year ago, Bassey is a rookie trying to earn minutes on a team that’s established and aiming to contend for a title. And like Maxey, Bassey was ready when the opportunity presented itself.
With Joel Embiid still in the league’s health and safety protocols, the Sixers turned to Bassey to back up Andre Drummond.
And the rook came through.
“It feels good,” Bassey said. “I knew coming into the game, of course we’re missing Jo. So I knew coming into this trip, I knew my time was going to come. And it was a matter of just when to get ready — watching film every day with my coach; watching [Drummond], knowing what he’s doing. And when my time comes, just go in there and do my job. It showed today.”
Also like Maxey last season, Bassey hasn’t been offered much practice time. With the every-other-day aspect of the schedule, Doc Rivers has opted to give his players rest — for obvious reasons. Rivers credits developmental coaches Dwayne Jones and Jason Love with having Bassey prepared.
Both coaches encouraged Rivers to play Bassey, despite the lack of game experience.
“You saw it in the shootarounds, because we’ve been going pretty hard in our shootarounds where we make them talk,” Rivers said. “And J-Love and DJ have been in my ear for about a week, just saying, ‘He’s ready. I’m telling you, he’s ready.’ And he was.”
For those of you mostly unfamiliar with Bassey before Thursday’s performance, he has a hell of a backstory.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Bassey was selling fried chicken on the side of the road as a 12-year-old and was discovered by a youth basketball coach. He sprouted to 6-foot-10 by the age of 14 and then moved to the United States, where he encountered Maxey in the state of Texas. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, but opted to go to Western Kentucky.
After a monster freshman season, some draft experts pegged Bassey as a potential lottery pick. He decided to go back to school and then suffered a tibial plateau fracture just 10 games into his sophomore season. He came back strong the following season, but slid to the second round of the 2021 NBA Draft, likely in part because of his injury history.
But the rest of the league’s loss is the Sixers’ gain.
“It’s just a little bit of adversity, just from the injury (in college), not playing summer league,” Bassey said. “It’s a little adversity. All I can do is control what I can control and just go out there and play as hard as I can for my team. And today, Doc gave me a chance and it was worth it. Like I said, my teammates trust me. So that’s all I can do, play as hard as I can every game.”
Tobias Harris, who’s famously taken all the Sixers’ young players under his wing since his own arrival here, gave Bassey a strong vote of confidence.
“He’s a heck of a player and he showed it tonight,” Harris said. “For him, I just think the key going forward is to build off of that — that same energy night in, night out. And he’s ready for the opportunity. Today he got it and just shined out there. He had three blocked shots, I think it was. How he finished around the rim was key for us. The full energy and excitement of him out there on the floor … he was a plus-20. That’s real right there. It was real.”
None of this is a surprise for those who know Bassey’s pedigree.
And here’s hoping his nickname sticks.
“C-Bass, man,” Maxey said. “I knew he could do this. I just told him when I was back there, I said, ‘Man, that’s the Charles Bassey I know from high school.’ I said, ‘Just keep doing that, keep your confidence high, keep working. You’ll be great.’”
Maxey would know.
If Bassey is able to have similar success and replicate the readiness of Maxey during his rookie season, the Sixers are in excellent shape.