Photo by Stefan Muro
After the nail-biting 95-89 overtime loss to Texas Southern in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, the Privateer men’s basketball team reflects on a successful and productive 2018 – 2019 season.
The team played through the final stretch of the regular season and postseason without senior guard and leader Ezekiel Charles, due to his torn Achilles tendon. In the remainder of the season — and his UNO career — he maintained a high leadership role from the sideline. For that reason and more, he deserves recognition.
Charles was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, which carries the reputation as a “basketball mecca” to many. He developed his passion for basketball while growing up.
“I used to play in my neighborhood a lot, and I fell in love with the game,” Charles said. This passion led him to play basketball at Lincoln High School, which has a highly regarded basketball program.
He was a two-year letterman for the Railsplitters, averaging 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He also led Lincoln to two PSAL Brooklyn AA titles and back-to-back trips to the state playoffs, while earning second team All-Brooklyn honors by the New York Daily News and a spot in the 2014 New York Top 100.
“A lot of greats … came out of Abraham Lincoln High School,” Charles said. “I went there for the challenge, and because I love basketball, I wanted to play with the best competition.”
Some of the players he mentioned were NBA players such as Lance Stephenson, Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair.
Before arriving at UNO, Charles played his first two years of collegiate ball at Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kansas. He averaged 12.3 points, 6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals for the Cougars while leading them to back-to-back trips to the NJCAA Region IV Tournament. He also put up two double-doubles and first team All-KJCCC honors in his 52 starts.
After his time in Great Bend, he decided to take his talents to UNO rather than Albany University or the University of North Texas.
“I got an offer from Coach Sless … I’m blessed everyday that I accepted that offer,” Charles said. “I came out here to visit, and my family loved it. I loved it. It was a great and warm feeling to come to New Orleans. I love the school and the people, so it was easy to make the decision to come here.”
After getting his first Privateer start in his home state of New York, Charles started in 18 games out of 31 starts. He averaged 7.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1 assist while shooting an impressive 46.8 percent from three-point range. He also managed to register 11 double digit games, including a five-game streak of doing so to end his junior season. His scoring ability certainly established him as a leader and a vital piece to the Privateers going into his senior year.
When asked about his biggest accomplishments as a Privateer, what came to mind was “actually, practice,” Charles said. “Even though we practiced a lot, I definitely miss it now and playing with the guys. It’s the connection I have with them and the coaches. It’s the unbreakable bond I have with them. When I came down here, I grew my family even more. Anyone I came across became my family. Down to the president, the A.D. and everyone that’s helped me. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
As a senior, Charles lead the Privateers, averaging 12.9 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. The Privateers had a 13-10 record before Charles went down with the Achilles tendon injury.
“I was devastated because I put in a lot of work,” he said. “I knew it was my last year, and I wanted to make a statement. Team-wise, I went to war with my guys every single day. Just watching them play and knowing I’m not out there leading them, it hurt me.”
Neither Charles nor the team thought he had lost his leadership role since the injury. He was on the sideline every night cheering and leading the Privateers to nearly winning the Southland Conference Tournament.
“I actually feel they even got better since I got hurt,” Charles said. “I learned from my coaches that even though I’m not playing, … I can help them with my voice.”
Now that his UNO career has concluded, he says, “I want to give all the glory and thanks to my coaches, teammates and anyone at UNO that helped me. I really love this place; I’ll always come back, and it’ll always have a place in my heart.”
Charles graduates this year with a degree in psychology, and he plans to have a career in basketball.
“I’m going to get better and I will be back.”