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Davion Mintz asks “Oscar to the rafters in Rupp?” Examining the case for it

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Tshiebwe had one of the best seasons in program history. Is it enough for a spot in the rafters, or does more work need to be done?

Oscar Tshiebwe Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

For all the immense and storied history of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball, we’ve never seen a player and human being quite like Oscar Tshiebwe.

In just one season, Tshiebwe has left a lasting impression on the Big Blue Nation and the Kentucky basketball record books. Though the season ended on a painful note, it doesn’t take away what an incredible year the native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo native has had.

Recently, Davion Mintz posed the question: Does Oscar Tshiebwe deserve to have his jersey hanging in the rafters of historic Rupp Arena?

There are 38 players with their jerseys in Rupp’s rafters. Let’s compare “Big O” to the other 38 and see where he adds up after one season.

Accolades

As of writing this article, Tshiebwe has won five of the six Player of the Year awards, with the Wooden Award set to be announced on April 5th. If Tshiebwe wins it, he would become the ONLY player in the history of the program to be unanimous Player of the Year.

You may recall how Anthony Davis became Kentucky’s first NPOY in 2012. However, he did not win all six NPOY awards, as Michigan State Spartans star Draymond Green won the NABC Player of the Year honor, which Tshiebwe has already won this time around.

Tshiebwe is also the 21st consensus First Team All-American in Kentucky basketball history. Of the 20 previous players, 15 of them have their jerseys retired, with the five exclusions all being in the last 25 years in Ron Mercer (1997), John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012), Willie Cauley-Stein (2015), and Tyler Ulis (2016).

Stats

In terms of games, at only 34, Tshiebwe would have played the least amount of any former Wildcat to have their jersey retired. The same could be said for his career totals as they are low in comparison after playing only one season.

But in terms of averages, Tshiebwe holds up with the best of them.

In rebounding, Tshiebwe ranks second all-time with 15.2 rebounds per game, only behind Dan Issel’s 16.1.

Point-wise, Tshiebwe would rank 11th with 17.4 points per game, ahead of names like Jack Givens, Kenny Walker and Tony Delk among others.

While averaging a double-double, Tshiebwe raked in 28 of them, which is a Kentucky single-season record and places him top-10 all-time in program history.

The total career totals may not be up to par, but the averages are and one has to consider the fact that in the current landscape, high-level college players don’t stay 3-4 years anymore, though that could be changing with NIL.

Check out the statistical comparison spreadsheet here.

Impact

Tshiebwe has had as much impact on and off the court as any Kentucky player in recent memory.

On the court, Tshiebwe’s impact is shown with some historic numbers. For the below examples, we are only looking at his career at Kentucky.

In win shares per 40 minutes, a statistic that divvies credit individually for a team’s success, Tshiebewe recorded a .297 this past season. This ranked second in the NCAA and would put him only behind Nikola Jokić in the NBA.

Another impact stat, plus-minus, he recorded a 13.3, putting him fifth in the NCAA. (Basketball-Reference)

*Win Shares is a player statistic that attempts to divvy up credit for team success to the individuals on the team.
**Plus-Minus, a.k.a. +/-, simply keeps track of the net changes in the score when a given player is either on or off the court.

While both of these statistical categories have only started recently being recorded in the last 15 years, they are some of the best ways to quantify a player’s impact on the court, and the numbers show that Tshiebwe’s impact cannot be understated.

Off the court, Tshiebwe has been a tremendous ambassador for the program and someone that people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond can look up to.

One such example is one that he had with Beaumont Middle School, a school in Lexington with 16 students from Tshiebwe’s home country of Africa.

During his visits to the school, Tshiebwe was able to connect with the students, and they were shown that they can be successful in America. You can see the story here.

It’s a tough decision, but the sport has changed and successful players rarely stay three or four years anymore, and he has the averages and accolades to compare to any player in program history.

And if Tshiebwe returns to UK for another year and puts up similar numbers, it becomes a no-brainer.

So, what say you? Let us know in the poll below and in the comments section!

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