Kentucky’s offense now goes through big man Oscar Tshiebwe.
Already leading the nation in rebounds, Tshiebwe (SHEE-bway) set career highs scoring in back-to-back games for the 18th-ranked Wildcats (13-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference ). He had 30 points and 13 rebounds in a lopsided victory at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, three days after finishing with 29 points and 17 rebounds against Georgia.
Back-to-back revelations are expected to boost Tshiebwe’s NBA draft stock.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but sometimes we have to take the time to appreciate what someone is really doing,” said teammate and Keion Brooks. “And Oscar has been great for us all year and has played exceptionally well.”
A 22-year-old junior from Congo, Tshiebwe began his college career in West Virginia. He left midway through his sophomore season for personal reasons and ended up transferring to Kentucky. Coach John Calipari believes Tshiebwe can give the Wildcats a presence they missed last season.
Tshiebwe hopes to do much more.
“I want my name to be remembered forever,” he said. “Not just as a basketball player, the way I treat people, the stuff I bring to Kentucky basketball. I want my name to be remembered as Oscar who was different, not just as a basketball player .
HEIGHT: 6ft 9in, 255 lbs.
STATS: 17 points, 15.1 rebounds, 62.7% shooting, 72.5% free throws.
STRENGTHS: Tshiebwe runs the floor like never before and lands easy baskets in transition. While his hands looked suspect at the start of the season, he has shown great touch around the rim in recent weeks – at both ends of the floor.
“We had a game a few games ago where he ranked, on his sprints, the worst he’s had all season,” Calipari said. “So now my focus is on him running this floor. This gives him a head start on the action. There are going to be some easy ones. He’s in a great position to bounce back.
WEAKNESSES: For a big, athletic man with a big body, Tshiebwe isn’t much of a shot blocker. He hasn’t had more than two in any game since early December and has just 23 in 466 minutes this season.
He must also continue to develop his job skills and broaden his range.
“Remember at the beginning of the year he couldn’t do 2 feet?” said Calipari. “Now he’s hitting jumpers and making free throws.”
PROJECTED DRAFT: Once considered a second-round draft, Tshiebwe is climbing the draft boards and could end up being a first-round midfielder by the time the draft arrives in July.
F JABARI SMITH, AUBURN: The 6-10 freshman from Fayetteville, Ga., could be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft if he decides to turn pro. Smith scored a season-high 25 points in a win over No. 24 Alabama on Tuesday. He also had seven rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals. He can shoot, dribble and play defense.
G JADEN SHACKELFORD, ALABAMA: The smooth-shooting southpaw leads the league in 3-pointers made (51) and attempted (133). The 6-3 junior is averaging 16.1 points — tied for sixth in the league — and 5.9 rebounds per game.
G KENNEDY CHANDLER, TENNESSEE: The 6-1 rookie from Memphis, Tennessee, ranks fifth in the SEC with 71 assists to go with 13.4 points per game. He’s an efficient ball handler, makes smart decisions in pick-and-roll situations, and has the speed and shooting range to be a dynamic point guard in the NBA.
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