What can you say about Oscar Tshiebwe that hasn’t already been said?
Since arriving in Lexington back in February of 2021, the big man from the Congo has all but rewritten the Kentucky basketball record books while stealing our hearts in the process.
- Height: 6-foot-9
- Weight: 260 lbs.
- Class: Senior
- Hometown: Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Position: Forward
- Recruiting Ranking: 4-star recruit ranked No. 31 overall and No. 8 among centers in the class of 2019 via 247 Sports Composite.
Tshiebwe grew up in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and unsurprisingly played soccer early on in his childhood, not basketball. Had it not been for a local camp organized by Bismack Biyombo, Oscar Tshiebwe may have never found his calling on the court.
Thankfully he was introduced to the game of basketball which ultimately brought him to the United States of America.
After a stellar high school career, Tshiebwe would be named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Pennsylvania and was invited to play in the McDonald’s All-American game.
Following a brief stint at the University of West Virginia, the stars aligned for Oscar Tshiebwe to transfer to Kentucky where he’s since cemented his name in history.
After an unbelievable 2022 season, there isn’t enough time to list all of the awards and accolades that were righteously bestowed on Oscar Tshiebwe.
Most notably the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder was the first player in program history to win all six NCAA-recognized Player of the Year awards (Associated Press, Associated Press, United States Basketball Writers Association, National Association of Basketball Coaches, Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award).
In years past, you’d expect a decorated college player like Oscar Tshiebwe to leave the amateur ranks for the pros in quest of turning his craft into financial prosperity. But, times have vastly changed with NIL adding incentives for players to stay in college, and Tshiebwe’s case may be something we see more and more in the future.
Here’s what the Big O had to say on SportsCenter when speaking about his decision to return to Kentucky in April.
“I pray for it and I ask God what is good for me. I ask God, ‘I became national player of the year, but why is my name not in the first round?” Tshiebwe said.
“I always wanted to be a lottery pick, but I ask God, ‘Why I’m not there yet?’ So God has told me he’s not done with me yet. He told me he wants me to go back and just work, because he’s not done with me in this place. So I’ll be back again. I’ll be here next year for Kentucky. I’ll be in the blue for Kentucky again.”
After the announcement was made that UK would have another season with the National Player of the Year, the Cats immediately became a preseason top-five team with sights set on getting to Houston for the Final Four.
Now the question becomes — Can Oscar Tshiebwe replicate his record-setting season from a year ago while improving his game?
During his National Player of the Year campaign Tshiebwe averaged 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds, the latter led the entire country.
From a statistical standpoint, I may be in the minority in thinking that matching those numbers in 2023-2023 is unlikely, partially due to the development of other front-court options like Daimion Collins, Lance Ware and the addition of 6-11 freshman Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso.
Assuming he matches his 32 minutes-per-game average from last season, it’s insane to think about him being able to exceed 15 boards per contest, but Oscar has proven he has no limits.
To start the year, there will be a minor concern of his overall health after he underwent a minor knee procedure following UK’s Pro Day. He’s expected to miss the Wildcats’ first two games vs. Howard and Duquesne. It’s also possible Calipari could monitor Tshiebwe’s minutes and not over-extend his usage unless absolutely necessary.
I’d expect him to take more outside shots this season and maybe even make the first three-point shot of his college career.
Back in July, he spoke about developing his game and using an outside shot to fuel his inside game.
“I don’t need to go out there and hit a bunch of threes. I just need one or two in the game. Then I can stay down low and keep doing my thing.” Tshiebwe said.
Whether it’s on or off the court there’s no denying that Oscar Tshiebwe has been a once-in-a-lifetime ambassador for the University of Kentucky and some expect him to remain part of the program for decades to come.
If the Cats can put together a special season and make it to the Final Four, it would catapult the Congo native to larger-than-life status in the Commonwealth.
Even if his numbers don’t end up matching what we saw a season ago, there are still so many ways Tshiebwe can impact a basketball game.
This year’s team has already shown promise in so many areas, so knowing that they’ll have a pillar of consistency like Tshiebwe in the middle should give the Big Blue Nation a strong sense of optimism heading into the season.
But it’s important to remember — he’s not a machine — he’s just Oscar.