Charles Bassey, the high school phenom and number 2 college recruit in the 2019 class by ESPN, has been declared ineligible to play high school basketball for the St. Anthony Catholic School Yellow Jackets.
The ruling, which was announced by Bryan Bunselmeyer, executive director of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS), on Thursday 17 November, noted that Bassey will not be allowed to play for St. Anthony Yellow Jackets or any other member school of TAPPS for the rest of his high school career.
Basketball Within Borders began investigations a fortnight ago when it learned that the 6’10 forward from Lagos, Nigeria was to be disallowed from participating in high school basketball within the TAPPS region.
Though Bunselmeyer did not disclose the exact reason Bassey was ruled ineligible, he was specific that the ineligibility was definitely not related to age or academics. Basketball Within Borders, however, discovered the ineligibility ruling was influenced by an anonymous complaint that a third party, acting in concert with the sponsor organisation for Bassey and other kids ruled ineligible, was recruiting exceptionally talented kids to St. Anthony’s basketball program through inducements, the consequence of which would put St. Anthony Yellow Jackets at an unfair advantage over other schools in the TAPPS system.
In simpler terms, Bassey did nothing wrong to warrant his ineligibility status; it was rather a case of ‘guilty by association’.
So, what does this really mean?
It means that the TAPPS Board believed Bassey’s scholarship at St. Anthony was part of a system involved in a scheme, possibly not to his own knowledge, to amass a bundle of talented kids into St. Anthony’s basketball program with the objective of getting easy wins over opponents. Per high school athletic rules in the United States, athletics departments are not allowed to recruit athletes to their programs.
A statement released by Rene Escobedo, St. Anthony Catholic High School Principal, noted that TAPPS’ ruling was borne out of the belief that Bassey and three other kids, one of whom has also been ruled ineligible, were induced to attend St. Anthony by a charitable organisation that provides sponsorship for their tuition, room and board. Though the three other kids were unnamed in the statements by TAPPS and St. Anthony, investigations by Basketball Within Borders revealed that Sam Chaput, Ousmane Ndim, and Obi Prosper.
The statement reads in part:
“The two ineligible students’ sponsorship by a charitable organization for tuition, room and board has been viewed by TAPPS as an inducement to attend the school, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
“We are disappointed and question the decision of the TAPPS Board, as it is quite common for many students in private schools to be sponsored by a third party. Throughout the last three months, St. Anthony complied with the numerous, repeated, and varied information requests responding to an investigation by TAPPS following what TAPPS described as an “anonymous complaint”.
— Adrian Garcia (@KSATadrian) November 17, 2016
Though the three other kids, Chaput, Ndim, and Prosper were not on St. Anthony’s roster last season when Bassey led the team to a 32-6 record, including a TAPPS 5A Championship game, the addition of these other three impacted on Bassey being ruled ineligible as it was believed that the addition of all players, including Bassey, was a deliberate scheme.
“There were other factors involved that allowed TAPPS or created a need for us to review his [Bassey’s] eligibility. The other people are probably the reason everybody started calling my office,” Bunsmeyer said.
Though Escobedo argues that the students, including Bassey, were admitted into St. Anthony without inducements from the school, but TAPPS rules, which violates member schools from luring students for athletic purposes, believes there was a violation, hence the ruling nullifying Bassey and the others from participating in extracurricular activities.
Recruiting of student-athletes at the high school level is against the rules, though there is the widespread belief that it persists as an ‘underground railroad’ for lumping talented young athletes into high school programs. Recruiting via the ‘underground railroad’ system is mostly facilitated by alums and sponsor organisations for private schools.
As St. Anthony opened its season on Thursday, Bassey, Chaput, Ndim, and Prosper were did not suit up for the Yellow Jackets, sitting behind the team bench to watch as their team competed instead.
In a conversation with Adam Zuvanich, a high school sports writer, Bassey insists he will stay at St. Anthony even if an appeal is declined.
“I’m going to stay because I love this school,” Bassey said.
Regarding the future of Bassey’s high school athletic career and beyond, he will likely miss one year of athletic participation, though pundits fear that his stock in the 2019 class will be affected. “The young men in question will play in college. A year delay will have minimal impact as long as the colleges they enter are wise and judicious,” an observer of the situation said.
Colleges will typically avoid student-athletes if they smell trouble and regard a player to be controversial. However, there would be coaches in good college programs more than willing to take a chance on a talented kid as Bassey; moreso for the fact that he has not done anything personally to warrant the ineligible ruling. Since his arrival in the United States from Nigeria a little over a year ago, Bassey has kept a level-head and shown discipline both in the classroom and in basketball gyms.
This is no doubt a bump in the road for the 16-year-old Bassey, touted as one of the best high-school players in the United States; how he handles it will shape his ability to confront challenges.