BOWLING GREEN -- It is a deeper, more talented, better-conditoned Western Kentucky basketball team that more than a dozen NBA scouts got a long look at during WKU's Pro Day on Wednesday afternoon in E.A. Diddle Arena.
The primary focus during the 21/2-hour enhanced practice session was, of course, sublime sophomore center Charles Bassey, a 6-foot-11 preseason first-team All-American according to Street & Smith's Basketball Yearbook and Lindy's Sports. Already, Bassey is being projected as a likely lottery pick.
Bassey appears to be in superior physical condition, down 10 pounds to 235 according to the WKU basketball press guide, and more similar in build and style of play to NBA superstar Kevin Durant than he was as a true freshman last season.
He appears faster and quicker, exhibits deeper shooting range and shows improvement as a passer, while maintaining the strength and uncanny timing that made him Conference USA's Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last season.
There's simply no way scouts could have departed unimpressed with Bassey's multifaceted skills and long-range potential.
"He's much better in every way," Hilltopper head coach Rick Stansbury said of Bassey afterward. "His body is so much better and it's clearly evident that he's quicker and more athletic. His shooting range has greatly improved and his overall development as a player is pretty clear to see.
"It's also important to remember that as we speak, he's still only 18 years old -- remember, Charles should have been a high school senior last season."
Bassey, however, wasn't all that was impressive about WKU on Wednesday,
"There are two things we're already much better at than we were last season," Stansbury said. "One, we shoot it better, and, two, we pass it better -- and that's going to make a big difference for us."
The team's perimeter shooting has improved exponentially with the addition of IUPUI graduate transfer Camron Justice, a 6-foot-3 former Kentucky Mr. Basketball and four-star guard out of Knott Central High School. Justice filled the basket with regularity on Wednesday, and his presence alone is destined to take a lot of pressure off Bassey on the interior.
"Cam Justice is really good," Stansbury said. "He brings something you really can't teach and that's the ability to shoot that ball in the basket from distance consistently.
"He's a more complete player than most people realize. He's always thinking a play ahead and he's a very good passer, getting the ball where it needs to be."
Other backcourt newcomers worth keeping an eye on include the point guard tandem of Kenny Cooper, a 6-foot senior transfer from Lipscomb, and Jordan Rawls, a 6-1 reclassified freshman who was a four-star prospect out of Chattanooga, Tenn.
The experienced Cooper will almost certainly start as the team's floor general if the NCAA clears him to play this season, Otherwise, Rawls, despite his youth and inexperience, will likely get the call and learn the collegiate pace as he goes.
A hidden gem could be Jeremiah Gambrell, a 6-2 redshirt freshman shooting guard from Houston, who appeared in just four games last season after dealing with multiple stress fractures in his legs. Know this: He can flat-out shoot the rock.
Impressive newcomers up front include Northern Kentucky transfer Carson Williams, a leather-tough 6-5, 230-pound jack-of-all-trades junior forward who will play a major role in the team's success; along with quick-jumping 6-7, 225-pound freshman forward Isaiah Cozart out of Madison Central, who finished his high school career with 1,575 points, 1,268 rebounds, and a state-record 716 blocked shots.
Then, of course, there are battle-tested mainstays such as Bassey, 6-2 senior guard Taveion Hollingworth, 6-6 junior swingman Josh Anderson and 6-5 senior shooting guard Jared Savage.
"Pro Day is an opportunity for our players to show their stuff, and the whole team benefits from an event like this," Stansbury said. "If you're good enough to play at the sport's highest level, the NBA will find you."
Stansbury, meanwhile, will be attempting to find the promised land for a Hilltopper program that hasn't appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 -- having finished runner-up in the C-USA Tournament the past two years.
"It's a long season and we have a long way to go in every way," Stansbury said, "but I believe we're going to shoot it better, pass it better, and we're going to be improved at the defensive end.
"We have a group of players with great attitudes and great work ethics -- I like where we're at right now."