Since Western Kentucky University’s basketball team signed five-star recruit Charles Bassey, questions have emerged about his graduation status — and, maybe, his NCAA eligibility.
WKU said Bassey graduated, but officials have been mum on the details of how, or from where, he is reclassifying to the class of 2018. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting interviewed numerous experts in the field about what this means for WKU’s top recruit, a Nigerian native who is already forecast as a top NBA draft pick in 2019.
The consensus: Bassey needs a high school transcript awarding him the status of a graduate to be eligible to play Division I basketball.
Questions about Bassey’s graduation emerged on the same day Aspire announced its new partnership with Holy Cross High School — the team’s third academic partner in as many years. And it came in the midst of an institutional shakeup for the Louisville prep academy, which hired a new president and parted ways with Hennssy Auriantal, a controversial international recruiter and Bassey’s legal guardian.
New Aspire Academy President Roger McClendon told KyCIR on June 21 that he doesn’t think Bassey, the team’s top player, received a diploma from DeSales High School before he announced his intention to reclassify to the class of 2018. Aspire is not a school; DeSales High School was the prep academy’s academic partner last year.
On Friday, McClendon referred questions about Bassey to Auriantal, who couldn’t be reached for comment. McClendon said Auriantal told him that Bassey has graduated from high school, or accomplished the “equivalent.”
“He’s informed me that [Bassey] has graduated from high school and he has his equivalent, diploma or equivalent, but I don’t know any other details other than that,” McClendon said.
Court documents suggest that Auriantal was granted guardianship against the wishes of Bassey’s father in Nigeria.
A KyCIR investigation found that prep teams like Aspire have little regulation, because they exist outside the bounds of high school sports. Other players connected to Auriantal have dealt with eligibility issues, KyCIR reported.
Western Kentucky University athletics spokesman Zachary Greenwell referred questions back to the details in a June press release that said Bassey has graduated, without specifying from where. He declined to explain further, saying WKU doesn’t answer questions about academic status “upon request.”
“I’ll again refer you back to our initial release on Charles’ signing, which confirmed his graduation — a detail we included because of his reclassification and prompt arrival on campus, which occurred the same day as his signing,” Greenwell said in an email.
Greenwell did not respond to additional questions.
In an interview in late June, DeSales High School President Rick Blackwell declined to talk about Bassey specifically, but said reclassifying is not the sort of thing DeSales typically does.
“We are a four-year institution,” he said. “Four year.”
Graduation necessary for eligibility
Marlynn Jones, a Florida based attorney who works with student athletes as an eligibility coach and spoke generally on eligibility issues, said eligibility requires three things.
“You have to graduate; you have to be admitted to the school and certified by the NCAA,” Jones said, speaking generally. “You have to do all three. You can’t do one of the three or two of the three. You have to do all three.”
Bassey was enrolled as a junior at DeSales High School last year, and he was scheduled to graduate in 2019.
Instead, WKU announced that Bassey graduated with the class of 2018 and committed to become a Hilltopper. Jones, the eligibility coach, said any prospective student-athlete would be ineligible to play for the NCAA without proof of high school graduation.
Proof includes an official high school transcript with a graduation date. A copy of the graduation ceremony program or a diploma is not considered proof, according to the NCAA website.
“So he could get [to college], and they could think he graduated, but the final transcripts have to come from the high school to the university, and directly from the high school to the NCAA. And then when [the transcripts] go there, if it doesn’t show a graduation date, they wouldn’t be able to certify that student,” Jones said.
Experts interviewed by KyCIR said graduating in three years is doable, and it’s an option that’s growing more popular in recent years for student-athletes. But it takes work.
Jones said to play for a Division I school such as WKU, the student must have completed the 16 core courses required by the NCAA, with at least a 2.3 grade point average.
At least 10 of those core courses must be completed before the student’s senior year. The student’s ACT or SAT test score and GPA must also meet the NCAA’s sliding scale requirement.
Another option: High school athletes could qualify for “early academic certification” after junior year, according to Rick Allen, a consultant with compliance consulting firm Informed Athlete.
Allen said for early academic certification, the student can complete fewer courses, but must post higher test scores, a higher GPA and still graduate from a high school by meeting that high school’s graduation requirements.
They also would have to take a specific mix of courses to meet the requirement.
“Through the six semesters, the athlete would have to have completed at least 14 of the standard 16 core courses,” Allen said.
If the student failed to meet those requirements, then he would have to qualify through the standard course and meet the 16 core-course requirement instead of just 14, Allen said.
In either situation, the student still must have graduated from high school.
While most of the NCAA required core courses do overlap with DeSales’ graduation requirements, DeSales still requires about 10 more classes that are not required by the NCAA, according to the DeSales student handbook.
Chad Seifried, a professor in the School of Kinesiology at Louisiana State University and an editor of the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, said meeting the NCAA requirements and graduating a year early does take work, but he’s known many people who met most of the graduation requirements by senior year.
“I myself was somebody like that,” said Seifried, who wasn’t speaking about Bassey’s case specifically. “I didn’t have to take classes really my last year of school to be a graduate because I already had it filled.”
Seifried said a student could double up on certain classes during the school year. The 16 core-course requirements include four courses of English, three courses of math, two courses of science and a combination of seven other courses. Seifried said a student could fulfill the English requirement by taking two English classes at the same time. He said many of those core classes also meet the high school’s requirements.
“There’s definitely enough hours in the day for students to take care of all those core classes in three years,” Seifried said.
What about a GED, online school or transfer?
Aspire coach Jeremy Kipness told Courier Journal that Bassey “must have graduated” in a story published Friday.
Bassey “did graduate high school and has his equivalent diploma,” Kipness told the paper.
Could he play with a GED?
Jones said individuals who do not graduate from high school but obtain a General Education Diploma, or GED, are eligible to play, generally speaking. But not necessarily in a reclassification.
According to the NCAA Eligibility Center, students can’t use GEDs before their high school class would have graduated. For Bassey, that date was spring of 2019, so NCAA rules wouldn’t appear to allow him to play Division I sports with a GED this year.
Allen said Bassey could also take online classes to meet the NCAA and high school graduation requirements in three years. Kipness told the Courier Journal that Bassey “was taking a few online courses” while he was enrolled at DeSales.
Allen said he wasn’t familiar with Bassey’s situation, but he was familiar with the reclassification process Bassey went through. Bassey could use online classes to earn credit, Allen said. But the classes would have to meet the NCAA nontraditional course criteria.
The NCAA requires that online courses have regular and ongoing teacher interaction throughout the entirety of the course. The course must also have a set time period for completion.
When asked if Bassey could have transferred at the last minute from DeSales to an online high school to meet graduation requirements, Allen said it might be possible, but the NCAA would probably look closely at the high school transcript.
“It would be possible if that online school could demonstrate to the NCAA that [they] have done this for non-athletes in the same manner that [they’ve] done it for this individual,” Allen said.
For example, Allen said the NCAA might check if a school has allowed a high-achieving musician to graduate early and go to the Julliard School. Whether that could be proven would depend on the school, and “whether they can support a statement like that,” Allen said.
Allen said Bassey could also use summer classes to meet the graduation requirements, as long as the content in those classes is equivalent to a standard course taught during the academic year.
WKU announced that Bassey was on campus, enrolled in summer classes, the same day he signed.
According to the NCAA website, these summer courses do not have to be taken at the student’s high school to count. But the student’s high school still must accept them as credit, award them to the student and reflect the credit on the student’s high school transcript.
All but one of the required courses must be taken before graduation, though, if the student is planning on attending a Division I school, according to NCAA stipulations.
Seifried said he would be surprised if a student made the decision to reclassify without first making sure all the requirements had been met.
“I wouldn’t think any of these students would be looking to reclassify unless they’d done their homework either by submitting or talking to somebody with the NCAA or working with the institution itself they’re potentially going to,” Seifried said.
He said he also doesn’t think reclassifying and graduating early is a bad idea for students who are ready to move on to college.
“I’d like to … hope that they have a lot of good advice,” he said. “I’m sure for those students that are mature, it would work out really well for them.”
And the reason basketball players like Bassey decide to reclassify? Allen and Seifried both agreed it’s usually for the NBA draft.
Seifried said basketball players who have been scouted and talked to coaches probably know if they are talented enough to be drafted.
“I think that some guys are looking at, like, ‘Why would I want to wait another year? I could go in this draft, and I might actually improve my draft position,’” Seifried said.
Allen agreed. He said from an academic standpoint, reclassifying might not be the best idea, but for athletes hoping to be drafted, it makes sense.
“If you’re looking at it as, is the athlete academically prepared to succeed academically in college? No, probably not a good idea,” Allen said. “But if it’s a quicker pathway to be able to get drafted and sign a multi-million dollar contract with the NBA, then yes, it could definitely be advantageous to the athlete.”
Soon after reclassifying, Bassey quickly climbed the lists of projected 2019 NBA draft picks.
Correction: Eligibility coach Marylnn Jones is now based in Florida. A previous version of this story reported that her business was still based in its previous location in North Carolina.