Men's Basketball

Oscar Tshiebwe's Greatness is Perhaps Underappreciated

by Tim Letcher

For those who have seen many, or all, of Kentucky’s games this season, watching Oscar Tshiebwe do his thing has become second nature. And those same folks probably don’t appreciate Tshiebwe as much as those who don’t see him regularly.

What Tshiebwe is doing is, frankly, very impressive. After Saturday’s 78-57 win over Florida, Kentucky is now 21-4 of the season. Tshiebwe had 27 points and 19 rebounds in the win, recording his 19th double-double of the 2021-22 campaign. He added three steals for good measure.

Obviously, that’s quite a feat on its own. But upon further review, it’s even more impressive.

This season, only one Power Five player has as many double-doubles as Tshiebwe. North Carolina’s Armondo Bacot also has 19 double-doubles in 25 games this season. No other Power Five player had more than 13 double-doubles, prior to this weekend’s games.

Saturday’s game was also Tshiebwe’s seventh consecutive double-double. He’s the first player to accomplish that feat since Julius Randle did so in 2013.

Tshiebwe continues to lead the nation in rebounding, averaging 15.1 per game prior to Saturday’s contest. His closest competitor is Fardaws Aimaq of Utah Valley, who is grabbing 13.2 boards per outing.

The junior set a Rupp Arena record for rebounds in a game earlier this season when he grabbed 28 against Western Kentucky. That broke the record that was held by LSU legend Shaquille O’Neal for 31 years.

Tshiebwe has also had a 30-point game this year. He notched that career high against Vanderbilt in early January.

Yet, there is still room for improvement for Tshiebwe. With under seven minutes to go in Saturday’s contest, UK head coach John Calipari gave the big man an earful when he didn’t call out a screen on defense. This, despite the fact that Tshiebwe had 25 points and 12 rebounds at the time. Calipari is telling the big man to focus his energies on rebounding and the rest will come.

“He’s just got to finish. I told him, I’m trying to get him to stop worrying about offense so he’ll score,” Calipari said. “Stop worrying about missing a shot and a free throw, stop worrying about missing one-footers. If you get 15 rebounds a game the rest of the way, you’re going to be Player of the Year anyway, and if you stop worrying about offense, you’ll score more.”

Tshiebwe did have some extra inspiration for Saturday’s game, courtesy of a young fan.

“Yeah. She came to visit,” Tshiebwe said. “She told me that I’m her favorite player and I told her, ‘Okay, tomorrow I am going to rebound for you.’ So that’s why I came today with a different mindset. I said, ‘No, I have to rebound for her.’ I am pretty sure she will be more than happy with what I promised. I promised her more than 20, but I missed a couple. But I think she’ll be more than happy for the 19 rebounds.”

His head coach made the pitch for Tshiebwe to be National Player of the Year after Saturday’s win.

“The reality of it is if you watch and you see who he is, you’ve got to love the kid,” Calipari said. “He plays so hard. He never says a word about the officials. He smiles. He went to a grade school and was working with some kids from the Congo. They said it was like ridiculous what it did for the kids and for him. He plays his heart out. He doesn’t play great every night out, but he impacts every game.”

What Tshiebwe is doing this season is truly special. And it could earn him national player of the year honors.

 

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