Ja Morant provided an inspiration to all small-conference players when he earned All-America honors at Murray last season and went to the Memphis Grizzlies with the second overall pick in the NBA Draft.
There doesn’t appear to be anyone of Morant’s caliber in the mid-major and low-major ranks this season, but there remain plenty of productive performers and pro prospects from outside the largest conferences.
Western Kentucky center Charles Bassey was having a productive freshman season last year while watching Morant rise to stardom about 100 miles away. Bassey enters this season as one of the top pro prospects from any college that isn’t in a major conference or in the preseason Top 25 .
“Guys that go to smaller schools still get drafted,” the 6-foot-11 sophomore said. “It’s not about the school. The school doesn’t get you drafted. You get yourself drafted by the way you play and stuff like that.”
Although he plays outside the major conferences, Bassey isn’t exactly a sleeper.
Rated as the nation’s No. 6 overall prospect in his high school class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports, Bassey is the rare five-star prospect to sign with a mid-major program. He plays for a Western Kentucky staff that includes his legal guardian, Hennssy Auriantal, as an assistant coach.
He entered his name into the draft after his freshman season before opting to stay in school. Bassey said the pre-draft process helped him realize what he needs to make himself a better prospect.
That included improving his post moves and his shooting. Bassey also was reminded about the importance of playing hard at all times and not taking any plays off.
Bassey was working his way back from a knee injury early last season and played with a brace on his right knee for much of Western Kentucky’s nonconference schedule.
But he still averaged 14.6 points, 10 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while helping Western Kentucky go 20-14. He was one of five finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award given to the nation’s top college center.
He’s eager to do even more this season as he tries to help Western Kentucky earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013 Western Kentucky received 13 of 14 first-place votes in a Conference USA preseason poll conducted by the league’s coaches.
“This year, it’s all good,” Bassey said. “I’m injury free. … Everything’s just different this year.”
Here’s a rundown of some other players to know from non-Top 25 teams in mid-major or low-major conferences.
ANTOINE DAVIS, G, DETROIT MERCY
Notes: Davis ranked third among all Division I players in scoring (26.1) last season and made 132 3-point baskets to break the NCAA freshman record previously owned by two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and former Davidson star Stephen Curry. Davis ranked second among all Division I players last year in 3-pointers per game with 4.4.
LAMINE DIANE, F, CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
Notes: As a redshirt freshman last year, Diane earned honorable mention on the Associated Press All-America team and made 340 baskets to lead all Division I players. Diane ranked sixth in Division I in both scoring (24.8) and rebounding (11.2). Diane also had 2.2 blocks per game.
JERRICK HARDING, G, WEBER STATE
Notes: Harding averaged 21.4 points last season after collecting 22 points per game two years ago. He has earned first-team all-Big Sky honors each of those years. Harding led the Big Sky with his .870 free-throw percentage last season.
ANTHONY LAMB, F, VERMONT
Notes: Lamb led the America East Conference in scoring (21.2) and rebounds (7.8) last season. He also had 62 total blocks to rank second in the conference on his way to earning honorable mention on the Associated Press All-America team. He helped Vermont earn an NCAA bid by averaging 26.7 points in three America East Conference Tournament games.
JERMAINE MARROW, G, HAMPTON
Height: 6 feet
Notes: Marrow ranked eighth among all Division I players in scoring (24.4) last season and also averaged 4.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He also set school single-season records for free throws made (218) and attempted (269). As a sophomore, Marrow averaged 19.1 points.
GRANT RILLER, G, CHARLESTON
Notes: Riller scored 21.9 points per game last season after averaging 18.6 points as a sophomore. He also averaged 4.1 assists last season and shot 53.8 percent from the floor and 80.6 percent from the free-throw line. Riller has scored at least 30 points in 11 career games.
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