It’s national championship or bust next season for the Cats’ ‘Big O’

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

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Oscar Tshiebwe was the unanimous national player of the year at Kentucky last season when he led the nation in rebounding but it wasn’t enough to convince NBA personnel he was ready to find a spot in the NBA.

Tshiebwe opted to return to Kentucky for a senior season to expand his game to make him more NBA-ready. He said he wants to work on his passing and dribbling. He wants to make outlet passers quicker after defensive rebounds. He’s also working a pump fake to let him attack the rim on defenders as well as 3-point shooting — he did not attempt a 3 last season. Defensively he wants to move his feet better to keep opponents from being able to drive by him.

“He (UK coach John Calipari) sees me in the gym working and he is impressed,” said Tshiebwe. ‘He says I am more of a basketball player now than last year. I like that. I think I am getting better and by the time the season starts I am pretty sure I will be better.”

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However, the best news for Kentucky fans is that Tshiebwe made it clear shooting 3-pointers to impress NBA personnel is not his priority. No, that priority is helping Kentucky win a national championship and he knows what he can do best to make that happen.

“I am not going to be over there trying to shoot 3’s. My purpose is to make one or two (per game),” the All-American said. ‘I will still be doing exactly what I always do. Coach is trying to take my game to another level. To try and play professional I have got to shoot. But my game is not changing. I will be the same Oscar. There is still room for my 20 rebounds (per game). I promised Coach I would get 20 (per game last year) and didn’t. I am fighting for 20. I know everybody will come at me and try to mess me up. There are not limits in my head. I just keep going.”

Tshiebwe averaged 15.1 rebounds per game last year and also led UK in scoring (17.4 points per game), steals (60) and blocked shots (55). He also shot a team-best 60.6 percent from the field.

However, it’s winning a championship, not another player of the year, that drives Tshiebwe.

“I’m loving my team and everything is going good. I love the competition. We play 5-on-5 and it’s not easy and you can get easy buckets. They just play, (they’re physical) and I love that. That’s what we need to be all season,” he said.

Tshiebwe considers this year a “great gift” and insists “we are going to be ready for the season” after failing to win a national title last year.

He is especially happy with freshmen Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston and Adou Thiero along with transfer Antonio Reeves.

“I love them all. They are working hard,” he said.

The center says they are all more physical than last year’s new players which helps make practices better to prepare everyone for games, especially SEC play.

“I feel like this year that the freshmen, especially offensively, are more ready than last year,” Tshiebwe said. “They seem more ready to go than last year.”

And if they are not, Tshiebwe will be there to prod them in the right direction. He wants them to ask him questions so he can guide them. If he can’t answer, he’ll send them to the coaches.

“There is no time to rest. We have got to come together,” he said. “We all have one goal to get No. 9. I came back for one reason. I don’t just count my trophies. I want to do something important here.”