Kentucky has secured a commitment from the top available transfer prospect in the nation, as West Virginia center Oscar Tshiebwe has announced he will play for John Calipari in Lexington for the 2021-22 season.
Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound center originally out of the Congo, chose the Wildcats over offers and interest from Illinois, North Carolina State, Miami (FL) and Tennessee, among others.
“I am grateful for the time I spent at West Virginia, and the lessons that I learned,” Tshiebwe wrote on his social media pages. “I’ve spent a lot of time praying to God to help me make the best decision for my future. I am excited for this new chapter of my life. I will continue my career at the University of Kentucky.”
I am grateful for the time I spent at West Virginia, and the lessons that I learned. I’ve spent a lot of time praying to God to help me make the best decision for my future. I am excited for this new chapter of my life. I will continue my career at the University of Kentucky #BBN pic.twitter.com/rm08UwtDBI
— Big O (@Oscartshiebwe34) January 11, 2021
But what does the newest Wildcat’s addition mean for the program?
Immediate practice player
Before worrying about Tshiebwe can and will do for the team next year, it’s important to note that the talented transfer is planning on enrolling for the second semester and will be heading to Lexington immediately. While he will not be eligible to play for the remainder of the 2020-21 season, he will, however, be allowed to practice with the team and work with the team’s strength and conditioning program right away.
This means the likes of Olivier Sarr, Keion Brooks Jr., Isaiah Jackson, Lance Ware and Jacob Toppin will be able to go up against Tshiebwe – an absolute tank of a man – every day in practice, helping the current group prepare for strong, physical players in the frontcourt the team will continue to see throughout conference play.
Kentucky is already deep on scholarship players – 11 now with Brooks back in the rotation – but Tshiebwe’s addition will ensure Calipari will no longer need to worry about having enough bodies to scrimmage in practice. Now, he has extras.
Junkyard dog in the paint
As for Tshiebwe’s on-court presence once he’s declared eligible in 2021-22, it’s fairly clear what Kentucky is getting: a strong, physical workhorse with an endless motor.
Standing 6-foot-9, 260 pounds with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Tshiebwe already has an NBA-ready body. He’s an anchor in the frontcourt, both literally and figuratively. But the reason there was so much excitement about the former five-star prospect out of high school was that he simply outworked everyone on the floor, and that has remained his staple in his time at West Virginia. Whether it be diving for loose balls, fighting for tough rebounds, or running ahead of the competition on fast breaks, Tshiebwe is outworked by no one.
This quote from the former Mountaineer center says it all:
“I’m a machine,” Tshiebwe said in West Virginia’s Life as a Mountaineer video series. “The way I play, most people we play against, they ask me the same question during games. “Bro, how do you not get tired?” I say, “I do get tired, but I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.”
Tshiebwe remains a bit raw on the offensive end – he’s relatively new to the sport – but he makes up for it by doing the dirty work on both ends of the floor. There is a reason he nearly averaged a double-double – 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game – as a freshman, after all.
Next year’s frontcourt may be complete
Just like that, Kentucky’s frontcourt for next season looks pretty loaded.
We’re not sure what will happen with Keion Brooks Jr. in terms of his NBA Draft decision, and Olivier Sarr (graduation) and Isaiah Jackson (NBA Draft) could both leave the program, but the expectation is that Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware are both back next season and Kentucky has already signed five-star center Daimion Collins and four-star forward Bryce Hopkins in the class of 2021.
With Tshiebwe officially added to the picture, space is already limited in UK’s frontcourt, and that’s a good thing. There isn’t a glaring hole down low as it stands with the five likely pieces in Tshiebwe, Toppin, Ware, Collins and Hopkins, and if either Brooks or Jackson return, the sky is the limit down low.
It’s not often you can solidify one a top-tier frontcourt a whole year in advance, but Calipari has done just that by adding Tshiebwe to the mix.
Someone who wants to be at Kentucky
Beyond what he brings to the table as a player, Tshiebwe is someone who has loved the Kentucky basketball program since he was in high school. As a recruit, Tshiebwe had deep ties to the West Virginia program that made it a near certainty that he would wind up in Morgantown, regardless of who came calling.
But make no mistake about it, Tshiebwe liked what Calipari and the UK program had to offer the first time around.
“It was a hard decision because I like Kentucky and I love Coach Calipari,” Tshiebwe told KSR at the McDonald’s All-American Game in 2019. “But I ended up at West Virginia because it’s a school I used to think about (growing up). I like the way they play, I like the coach, I like the program. That’s why I ended up going there.”
Had he not signed with the Mountaineers, Tshiebwe told KSR he was headed to Lexington.
“Coach Calipari was telling me, “I want to coach you! Come play for me! I’m going to coach you and help you become a great player. I’ll help you reach your dreams. … Kentucky was second.”
Two years later, Tshiebwe is finally a Kentucky Wildcat.