The NCAA’s new name, image, and likeness rules have undoubtedly been a major difference maker for college athletes. Players can finally accept branding deals and other offers that put money directly in their pocket for the use of their personal brand or image.
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As Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe has put together a player-of-the-year type of season and proven to be one of the best rebounders in recent memory, the list of money making opportunities has started to grow. But for the big man from the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s not just about the money. Tshiebwe told The Athletic this week that the process has begun to bring his mother to the United States to see him play basketball in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m so thankful to God, I don’t even know what to say. I’m just excited,” Tshiebwe said. “That means a lot to me. When I see my mom, I’ll probably cry like a baby. To be able to do this and help my mom is one of the best things in my life. I’ve come from a long way away and always try to find a way to take care of my family, and now God has opened the doors.”
After transferring to Kentucky this season from West Virginia, Tshiebwe has emerged as one of the best players in the country. He’s a big reason why the No. 6 Wildcats are 23-5 and regarded as a strong contender to win the NCAA championship. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 15.3 rebounds per game, with 22 double-doubles.
He’s recorded 20 or more rebounds nine times, highlighted by a 30-rebound effort on Jan. 11 against Vanderbilt that was preceded by 29-board game against Georgia on Jan. 8. Per Stats Perform, Tshiebwe has recorded at least 12 rebounds in 15 straight games, the longest streak by any Division I player in the last 25 years.
Oscar Tshiebwe of @KentuckyMBB has now grabbed at least a dozen rebounds in 15 consecutive games.
That's the longest streak by any Division I player in the last 25 years.
— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) February 24, 2022
When his mother sees him play later this season, it will be for the first time.
“Every conversation we’ve had … it’s been about how we can get this done so Oscar can help his mom,” said T.J. Beisner, who handles NIL matters for UK basketball. “The urgency hasn’t been about getting him a cool car or new clothes, although he certainly deserves those things. It was about creating an avenue to take care of his family and help people back home.”
Tshiebwe left his home and family in Congo six years ago to pursue his basketball dream and didn’t return for a visit until this past summer. While there, he learned that his mother lives with 10 other people in a home that’s roughly the size of two dorm rooms. His father, who was a pastor, died after being poisoned when Oscar was just 12 years old.
Kentucky coach John Calipari and others in the program have worked diligently to help get his mother out of there to come to the United States and see her son play, The Athletic reported.
It’s been quite a while since the college game has seen a rebounder like Tshiebwe. He credits his tenacity to simply not wanting to fail. To fail on the court would mean to fail his family, he told The Athletic.
He certainly doesn’t want to do anything but dominate when his mother is in the house, especially with it being the NCAA Tournament.
“I tell her if she’ll be there, I’ll probably drop like 50 and 30,” he told The Athletic, laughing. “I tell my teammates if my mama is there and they pass me the ball, if it touches my hands, it’s not going back.”
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Tshiebwe had to wait for a few things in the legal process to play out in order to be approved to receive NIL compensation, all the while seeing his teammates sign deals worth six figures. With the season he’s had, he knows he’s missed out on opportunities to make some serious money.
Through it all, as he’s done throughout his life, he’s relied on God for strength and patience.
“I’m not even frustrated,” he told The Athletic in the fall. “I’m happy, because if I can’t do that, it means God has a different plan. When it’s time to make money, I will make money.”
When all of this is sorted out, he plans to launch a charity, The Big O Foundation, that he hopes will help build schools and provide opportunities to play and practice basketball for the children of Congo. Tshiebwe’s heart for others is evident as he often stays around for more than an hour after games signing autographs and engaging with fans — all for free.
Don’t expect any of that to change, no matter how much money he’s able to make off of such interactions.
“He told me, ‘So many people have helped me along the way, it’s my duty and Christian obligation to give back and be a light in people’s lives,’ so I have a feeling that’s not going to stop,” said Nate Conley, Tshiebwe’s agent. “I love that his mom is going to get to see all this now. I don’t think she understands the impact Oscar has at Kentucky, on college basketball, on the world, really. It’s going to be an incredible story, an incredible opportunity, for her to see that during March Madness. That has always been a huge part of this for him.”
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