Oscar Tshiebwe will be in Lexington shortly.
After committing to the program Sunday evening, Kentucky officially announced the signing Friday, adding that the West Virginia transfer would be joining the team as a practice player the remainder of the season before suiting up in 2021-22.
Unsurprisingly, it’s an addition UK head coach John Calipari is excited about both immediately and in the long term.
“I loved Oscar out of high school, we recruited him. We loved his effort, his intensity, all his fight,” Calipari said Friday afternoon. “I just said, “That’s what you’ve got to bring here. The most important thing will be that. You bring all that, we’ll try to help in any way we can. We’ll be about you, you be about these guys, you be about elevating everything around you here.” It was a pretty direct conversation, there was no, “You’re going to do this, we’re going to have you do this,” basically none of that. It was more about what this culture is about here.
“We’re excited, I’m excited to have him here.”
Calipari is specifically excited about Tshiebwe’s experience playing under West Virginia coach and close friend Bob Huggins.
“Bob and I have talked. I texted him. The people that we had talked to with Oscar were Bob Huggins fans, so that’s why I never picked up the phone and called him. But since then we have talked by phone,” Calipari said. “Just being in that environment, being coached by Bob, who – in my mind – is a Hall of Famer. Having that background before he comes here is good.”
Leading up to his official debut as a Wildcat when the 2021-22 season begins, Tshiebwe will head to campus and serve as a practice player to help develop the likes of Olivier Sarr, Keion Brooks Jr., Isaiah Jackson, Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware to close out the current season. The plan is for him to arrive in the coming days.
Calipari compared Tshiebwe’s situation to that of Enes Kanter back in 2010-11, who helped take Josh Harrellson “to another level” by working with him in practice while the NCAA investigated his eligibility and ultimately declared him ineligible to play. He added that the late Ben Jordan was a significant help to Nick Richards in practice just last season.
Tshiebwe’s job will be to make a similar impact on the current roster.
“He’s not here yet, he’ll be here within the next five days. But he’s not here yet,” Calipari said. We talked about that (with him), we talked about what Enes (Kanter) did and how he got Josh Harrellson to another level. We even talked about, I had a guy come in to help Nick, Ben Jordan. He had a job to toughen up Nick, to make it physical, to do things to make sure (he) was all over Nick. Your job will be, “How do I help these guys?”
“Maybe with him, I take five guys, and those guys are playing the top seven or eight guys. We start scrimmaging that way, even though it’s late in the season, it’s something I’ve thought about when we get him here.”
As a freshman, Tshiebwe led the Mountaineers in scoring (11.2 points per game), rebounding (9.3 boards per game) and blocks (1.0) in 23.3 minutes per game en route to All-Big 12 Second Team and Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors. He also made the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team, the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 8 First Team, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association District II Team and the Academic Big 12 All-Rookie Team.
Now headed to Lexington, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound center hopes to make a similar impact as a Kentucky Wildcat.