Oscar Tshiebwe was waiting for one phone call in particular when he entered the transfer portal in the middle of last season, his second at West Virginia. He had turned down Kentucky coach John Calipari once before, but had no intention of doing so again.
“Kentucky was my favorite school, my dream school, since freshman year in high school,” Tshiebwe told the media in April. “I ended up choosing West Virginia, but look what God did. He sent me to the place I always prayed for.”
Tshiebwe transferred to Kentucky in January and practiced with the team for the rest of the 2020-21 campaign. Finally able to take the floor this season, he is among the most dominant interior forces in college basketball. His 17-point, 20-rebound debut against Duke in the Champions Classic last month provided a glimpse of what the rest of Kentucky’s opponents would be dealing with.
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The former McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit nearly averaged a double-double as a freshman at West Virginia and has significantly improved his numbers through seven games for the ninth-ranked Wildcats. He is the nation’s leading rebounder by a wide margin with 16.0 boards per game, and he’s scoring a career-high 14.1 points per game as well.
Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tshiebwe is also strong in his faith. He is the son of a pastor, but when he was 12, his father was poisoned and later died.
A young Tshiebwe wondered why God would allow someone who dedicated their life to serving others to be taken so suddenly. As he wrestled with the tragedy, he leaned on his faith and the values instilled in him by his father.
“I said, ‘Maybe I need to give my heart to God,'” Tshiebwe recently told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Maybe I need to pay attention because my daddy always taught me no matter what happens in your life, don’t let that thing affect your relationship with God because God has great plans for your life.”
Tshiebwe moved to the U.S. before his freshman year of high school to chase his dream of playing in the NBA, and he did not speak a word of English when he arrived. After two years at Mountain Mission School in Virginia, he transferred to Kennedy Catholic High School in Pennsylvania before joining the Mountaineers.
When he decided to leave the West Virginia program, Tshiebwe asked God to guide him as he determined what his next step would be.
“I truly believe in God, and God makes most of the decisions for my life because I pray for it and I listen to what God is telling me to do, and I make my decision. … My situation, it was led by God,” he said.
Tshiebwe immediately established himself as an indispensable member of the Wildcats, who have won six straight games since losing to Duke in their season-opener. The 22-year-old — who once had visions of being on the long list of one-and-done players at Kentucky — is grateful for the path that led him to Lexington, even if it wasn’t the one he imagined.
“For me, being in this place, it is a blessing,” he said. “It is hard work and believing in God because the best gifts always come from God.”
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At 6-1, the Wildcats host Southern University on Tuesday before facing four straight high-major opponents, starting with a trip to Notre Dame on Dec. 11.
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