LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Oscar Tshiebwe didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15. That’s when he traded his soccer cleats for basketball shoes.
A goalkeeper in soccer, Tshiebwe was used to protecting the goal and preventing the opponent from scoring whether by diving or leaping at any ball that crossed his path. Since making the transition from soccer to basketball, Tshiebwe has applied that same concept on the court and he has successfully developed into one of the top players in college basketball this season. He’s already mentioned as a potential player of the year candidate and is on track to accomplish that feat.
In his most recent performance, Tshiebwe scored 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in Kentucky’s 78-66 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. The 30 points marked a career high. Earlier this season, he grabbed a career-high 28 rebounds in a win over Western Kentucky.
His performance in Nashville that grabbed the attention of teammates, including Keion Brooks, who continues to marvel at Tshiebwe’s rebounding abilities.
"I was on the bench, talking to Lance (Ware) or Bryce (Hopkins) and I was like, 'Oscar is really good,'" Brooks said. "I wouldn't say I was surprised but sometimes we've got to take the time to appreciate what somebody really does. And Oscar has been tremendous for us all year and playing exceptionally well."
Kellan Grady agreed. “It’s crazy, but I expect him to get 15-20 rebounds every game,” he said. “It seems like 98 percent of the time he does exactly that … He’s been a first-team All-American caliber player for us this year.”
On the court, Tshiebwe has developed the reputation of fighter and one of the most dominant rebounders in recent Kentucky history. He currently leads the team with an average of 17 points and 15 rebounds per game. His presence in the post has been a welcome addition.
“He's the ultimate bail-out,” assistant coach Jai Lucas said. “He’s one of those guys and it’s rare these days with big men. He’s actually one of the bigs that can catch anything and he’s catches everything. That shows in the rebounding, too, him being able to rebound and get those balls.”
A 22-year-old junior from the Congo, Tshiebwe began his college career at West Virginia. He left in the middle of his sophomore season for personal reasons and ended up transferring to Kentucky. His impact so far has been immeasurable.
As successful as he is on the floor, Tshiebwe wants to be known as more than just a basketball player. Following a recent game at Rupp Arena, Tshiebwe spent more than an hour signing autographs for kids and fans. He didn’t mind meeting and greeting younger and older generations of Big Blue Nation and also wants to be known as a positive role model.
"I want my name to be remembered forever," Tshiebwe said. "Not just as a basketball player, (but) the way I treat people. The stuff I'm bringing to Kentucky basketball. I want my name to be remembered as Oscar who was different, not just a basketball player."
All of his success is fueled by his faith and belief in God and he’s not shy about sharing his belief in a higher power.
“I believe in God and trust in God and give all the glory back to God because I don’t perform to my own strength,” he said. “God always helps (and) I just go out there and fight. And the first thing I do with everything is to invite God into it. God always helps me.”
Always smiling and positive, Tshiebwe’s attitude makes him not only a fan favorite, but a joy for his teammates to be around on and off the court. Grady seems to think Tshiebwe rarely has a bad day.
“Not that I’ve witnessed,” he said. “I’m sure naturally he has, but Oscar is always in a great mood. He lifts your spirits and he’s really one of my favorite people that I’ve met.”