If you arrive at a Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball game early enough, you’ll catch Oscar Tshiebwe and Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso battling each other one-on-one in warmups. The battles are filled with competition, but also smiles and laughter, two things that have been scarce at times this season.
Both coming from Africa, the two have created a brother-like bond, sharing many of the same experiences. At 23 years old, Tshiebwe assumed the older brother role “immediately” and has been an invaluable help to the 18-year-old Onyenso, both on and off the court.
On the court, they build up each other, specifically in practice, where they say the battles are most intense. Tshiebwe possesses the physicality that Onyenso needs to improve against, the same can be said for Onyenso possessing the length that Tshiebwe needs to improve against.
“We go at each other in practice, every time. Every time,” Onyenso tells me. “To get me ready for the next level. He helps me, I help him. It’s a 50/50 thing.” As a sign of improvement, Onyenso says he has won the last two-three battles, “surprising” Tshiebwe in the process.
Yet, off the court, is where most of the teaching and learning is happening. When asked specifically, Tshiebwe says he is teaching four specific things to his newest teammate:
- Be a fighter.
- Stay in the gym, always keep improving,
- Treat others with respect, “treat them how you would want to be treated.”
- Keep God in your life.
Using these four key principles, Tshiebwe believes he is preparing Onyenso for “his time”, “I just want to get him ready for when I am not here.”
That starts with a fighting spirit. “He (Tshiebwe) is always telling me, ‘Know where you come from,’” Onyenso says. “Where we are from, being from Africa, we need to work. We should have that fighting spirit in us, we don’t quit. He always tells me, whenever things get harder, that’s when I know I am really working.”
Yet, it doesn’t stop there. Leaning into the narrative that Tshiebwe is different from the rest of the roster, Onyenso actually confirms that, but not for the reasons you may immediately think of.
“Oscar is very different,” Onyenso tells me. “For someone who is National Player of the Year, he doesn’t act like it. It’s a very good thing. He treats people the same way. He treats every with the same love and the same respect.”
This example being set for Onyenso is “big” for him as he wishes “to follow in his (Tshiebwe) footsteps.”
When asked what he wants to be remembered for most at the end of his time in Lexington, Onyenso didn’t answer with any accolades, but rather him as a person. Without hesitation, “Not on the court, but off the court. The kind of person I am, the kind of impact I want to have on people. How I am willing to help people any way I can.”
At a time when people are talking about Tshiebwe’s ball-screen defense and not living up to his performance from last season, it is just as important to talk about his humanity. That is something that is seen in his relationship with Onyenso.