Whether Oscar Tshiebwe makes it in the NBA or not, one thing’s for sure: great will be his reward in heaven (Dr. Michael Huang Photography).
(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Now that Oscar Tshiebwe’s University of Kentucky basketball career has officially ended, I thought it’d be the perfect time to briefly reflect and reminisce on his time as a Wildcat. If you hadn’t yet heard, the former National Player of the Year announced his intention of entering the 2023 NBA draft, thus foregoing his final year of eligibility at the school of his dreams.
In his goodbye message put out by the University of Kentucky, Oscar predictably thanked God, his family and friends, Coach Cal, and the UK fanbase for his time wearing the blue and white.
“I wouldn’t want to play for anyone or anywhere else,” he poignantly wrote. “Thank you BBN for everything and I am so lucky to always call Kentucky home.”
I’ll be truthfully blunt. I don’t think we’ll ever see a player like Oscar again. On the court, he was a rebounding machine, garnering double digit caroms at an all-time pace. He ended up with 952 boards in 66 games—the sixth most in program history. If he returned for another season, he would have most likely broken Dan Issel’s 53-year school record of 1,078.
Oscar was no Dan Issel. Or even Anthony Davis for that matter. He certainly didn’t have the accomplishments that Davis had, nor the victories or championships. But he had every bit as much heart and soul and drive and purpose as anyone I’ve watched during the course of my half century following the team.
His prowess around the backboards notwithstanding, it was Oscar’s actions off the court that will always stand out to me. The guy was as humble as Saint Paul, always taking the time to answer questions, sign autographs, and pose with adoring fans. He was polite and courteous to a fault. In his postgame interview sessions, Oscar would sit there patiently answering every reporter’s question—regardless of how inane or repetitive—until the clock struck midnight and beyond.
On top of all that, Oscar did everything with a smile. The guy was just so nice. He’d look you in the eye, and with that melodically lilting African accent, wax poetically about fight, playing hard, and his love of the game. You just somehow knew that everything he told you was genuine, unscripted, and coming from the heart. Remember the time he called out his teammates for lack of fight? You knew that didn’t come from the public relations gurus at UK.
Most importantly of all, Oscar wore his faith on his sleeve. Coach John Calipari frequently speaks of finding your “why”—your motivation for doing what you do. Oscar’s “why” was to give glory to God each and every day. He certainly did that in both word and deed. We should all be so passionate in our faith and our testimony.
Imagine Oscar’s journey from his native Democratic Republic of the Congo to Lexington. Put the basketball part aside, do you know how difficult it is to adjust to life in a foreign country? Not only did Oscar survive, but he also thrived—learning the laws and customs, making friends by the boatload, earning a college degree, and speaking publicly in front of large crowds about important spiritual matters like loving your neighbor.
Christians are known for being two things: hypocritical and judgmental. Oscar was neither. One minute you’d hear him talking about caring for the sick and the poor, the next minute you’d see him helping at a soup kitchen or raising money for a worthwhile children’s charity. Just because you were different from him, he’d never denigrate or belittle you. It didn’t matter if you were Muslim or Buddhist, Hindu or Wicca, he’d talk to you as disciple of Jesus anytime, anywhere, anyhow.
Okay, so maybe he had trouble defending the pick and roll and he never experienced the postseason success everybody anticipated, but I’ll take eternal glory in heaven over divine hardwood presence any day of the week.
In the end, Oscar knew how important winning basketball games was to UK fans. But he always managed to keep the main thing the main thing. Because of that (and his rebounding), we’ll eventually see his jersey hanging in the hallowed rafters of Rupp Arena.
For now, The Oscar is going to the NBA. Here’s hoping he makes it big. As an all-time great for the Kingdom of God, he’s already my MVP.
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. If you enjoy his writing, please check out his most recent Kentucky Basketball devotional book at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1684351669
This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.