Oscar Tshiebwe, Unanimous National Player of the Year, Returning to Kentucky
Oh my goodness, this is not your grandfather's John Calipari-coached Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. Nope. I'm old enough to remember not even entertaining the notion that UK's best player would return to Lexington for another year.
You remember, right? It was way back in the 2010s when the one-and-done model would allow Wildcat fans to enjoy the talents of elite freshmen for exactly one year before they headed off to the bright lights and big paychecks of the NBA.
BIG NEWS FOR KENTUCKY BASKETBALL FANS
Those are the quaint days-gone-by of the pre-NIL era. It seems that allowing players to earn money off of their names, images, and likenesses is really changing the game right before our very eyes. Otherwise, the news Kentucky fans got Wednesday would have never come across our smartphones in an app alert notification.
OSCAR TSHIEBWE ANNOUNCES RETURN
The 2021-2022 National Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe, is returning to UK for his senior year, making Big O the first unanimous National Player of the Year to come back to school since North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in 2008. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but the Tar Heels went on to win the 2009 national title.
But let's get into this. Once again, Oscar is the UNANIMOUS National Player of the Year. Would it have ever occurred to ANY Kentucky fan who's watched single-year blue-chippers depart Lexington annually over the last decade-plus that this rebounding savant from the Congo would ever come back? Not me, certainly. Or a lot of folks really, some of whom couldn't help but have a little fun with the announcement:
In my opinion, it's a perfect-storm combination of NIL and the transfer portal, which Calipari embraced a year ago and built a team that landed a number two seed in the NCAA tournament in 2022 after an abysmal 9-16 campaign in the previous season. Sure, the 'Cats made the wrong kind of history with a first-round loss to 15th-seeded St. Peter's, but it was still quite a turnaround; despite that ignominious defeat, Kentucky still beat the two teams that eventually played for the national championship--Kansas (the winner) and North Carolina--by a combined 47 points.
OSCAR TSHIEBWE'S DECISION: DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
Here's CBS Sports college hoops analyst Gary Parrish speculating about Oscar's financial prospects and why he thinks this was actually an EASY decision for Big O:
OSCAR TSHIEBWE IN ACTION
Tshiebwe's stats are mind-boggling. He averaged 17 points and 15 rebounds per game while connecting on 61% of his shots.
And now, he will return to Kentucky to possibly rejoin Sahvir Wheeler, Jacob Toppin, Keion Brooks Jr., and others for what could be a very special season. I say "possibly" because all three of those guys are testing the waters, and none has hired an agent in order to maintain eligibility if they don't like what they hear.
But that's not the story with Big Blue Nation on Wednesday, April 20th, 2022. They heard what they were dreaming they'd hear and now the clock ticks until the first week in November when Kentucky takes the floor to open the 2022-2023 season against Michigan State.
I can't wait, either.