Western Kentucky’s men’s basketball team is in its second week of workouts after returning to campus July 9 as part of the COVID-19 athletic restart plan, and head coach Rick Stansbury has seen promising signs from star center Charles Bassey, who suffered a season-ending injury Dec. 7 in the Hilltoppers’ overtime win against Arkansas.

“Me, personally, I think Charles is doing really well,” Stansbury said Tuesday in a Zoom conference with reporters. “He’s going through all of our workouts right now. It’s non-contact, four guys at a time, but I was really kind of surprised where he was at.

“Watching him sprint, he’s sprinting really well. Naturally, he’s still trying to get that muscle back developed where it was at before in that leg. I think he’s doing really well and again, I think just being back around his teammates – that was a lonely three months for him every day.”

The 6-foot-9 rising junior from Lagos, Nigeria, suffered a tibial plateau fracture in the second half of the 86-79 win over the Razorbacks at E.A. Diddle Arena and underwent season-ending surgery Dec. 10 in Houston. The procedure was conducted by physicians for the NFL’s Houston Texans and the NBA’s Houston Rockets. It was the same physicians who performed a similar surgery on Texans star defensive end JJ Watt when he suffered the same injury in 2017.

Following the procedure, the WKU men’s basketball Twitter account updated fans on Bassey’s status, saying the surgery was “very positive and exceeded expectations.” It also said the bone was successfully repaired and Bassey was expected to make a full recovery within the next nine months.

Bassey was cleared for non-contact rehab court activities at the beginning of June and has been taking part in team workouts, which are limited to groups of four and do not involve contact activities to this point. Bassey continued his rehab work with associate athletic trainer John Erwin after the team went separate ways following the cancellation of the Conference USA Tournament and the NCAA Tournament in March, according to Stansbury.

“The virus sure wasn’t good for nobody, but the one thing for him is it allowed everybody to just concentrate on him,” Stansbury said. “John and our medical staff did a tremendous job with him. During all this time, he was rehabbing every day.”

Stansbury said there is no exact timetable for when Bassey will be cleared for full-contact activities, but said “it’s probably worked in his favor that we’re not rushing him.”

He added that, while he and the staff have an idea of what they would like to do in the future, nothing is set in stone right now, but he could see the team staying in August because of the pandemic, when it usually gets a three-week break. That would give Bassey another three weeks of rehab, Stansbury said.

“By the time practice started for sure – full practice – there’s no question he’ll be ready to go and maybe even before then,” Stansbury said. “We think he’s doing really well. Again, John – who is our head trainer here – he’s done a tremendous job with him. He’s put in a lot of time. Every day when everybody else was home locked down, these two guys were together every day working.”

Bassey has been the team’s biggest professional prospect in recent years. Considered one of the top centers in the nation, Bassey participated in the NBA scouting combine the spring following his freshman season and withdrew his name from draft consideration late, opting instead to return to WKU for his sophomore season. He did not declare for the draft before this year’s April 26 deadline for early entrants.

He was the Conference USA Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year his first year at WKU after averaging 14.6 points and 10 rebounds per game as a reclassified freshman. Through 10 games as a sophomore, he led the Hilltoppers with 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds with 16 blocks and eight steals.

WKU is scheduled to play Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center to open the 2020-21 season on Nov. 10.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.

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