West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe has only been eligible to practice at Kentucky for one week, but he’s already making his presence known on the floor.
Despite not being eligible for game competition until the 2021-22 season, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound center is allowed to practice and train with the team, giving Kentucky added flexibility when it comes to scrimmaging and drills.
With Tshiebwe now in the fold, John Calipari is now rotating the team’s top seven core players in scrimmages against the team’s role players, allowing the bottom of the roster to develop while the top gets solid practice reps. It’s an added wrinkle Calipari has rarely had the pieces to utilize.
“He made the halfcourt shot for Vandy (at the shootaround), so that helped us win that game [laughs],” Calipari said of Tshiebwe on his call-in radio show Monday evening. “He gives you a presence. And here’s the other thing I’m doing. Now, we have a unit, we’ll have seven guys on one team getting those minutes, but that other group now becomes ‘Big Oscar,’ where you’ve got size, you’ve got Cam Fletcher, you still have Dontaie (Allen) shooting balls, still have Lance (Ware) being physical and doing his thing.
“All of a sudden, that group gets great work because they’re playing against those seven. I’ve done that at times, but I’ve never had enough guys to really do that. Normally it’s just the first five and the second five. This has been good and he has been a great addition.”
Speaking of that top seven, Calipari confirmed that he has officially cut his rotation down to seven players as the team plays its final regular season games and heads into the SEC Tournament, a move that has been in the works since Kentucky’s loss to Arkansas on Feb. 9 when Dontaie Allen and Lance Ware both dipped below ten total minutes. Since that point, no bench player outside of Jacob Toppin and Keion Brooks Jr. has received more than nine minutes in a game, with Allen, Ware and Fletcher combining for just two minutes in UK’s win at Tennessee on Saturday.
Moving forward, Calipari is planning on playing Devin Askew, Davion Mintz, BJ Boston, Isaiah Jackson, Olivier Sarr, Toppin and Brooks.
“I always say, “Look, I’m with these guys every day.” What I’ve done, now, is go to a seven-man rotation. That’s what we’re doing,” Calipari said. “If you’d have been in our practices, you’d know, “Yeah, those are our seven.” I sat down with the other guys and said, “There could be foul trouble, there could be injuries, awful play, something that gives you a chance. You must be ready for your opportunity.” I said, “Let’s say you’re lucky enough to be a professional some day.” I looked around the room, “Guys, you’re going to be the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th man on a roster, and you’re going to get DNP – did not play – and they’re going to shove you in and you’re going to go 0-5 with two airballs, look weak, and can’t guard anybody.” You know what they’re going to say? “Who the heck drafted this guy?” And then you’re done.
“You have to be ready for your opportunity, and that’s what those guys coming off the bench will do. We’re got a nice group that’s clicking pretty good.”