Oscar Tshiebwe, the nation’s most decorated college basketball player, will return to suit up for Kentucky for a senior season in 2022-23. He announced his decision on ESPN’s Sportscenter on Wednesday.
“God has told me He is not done with me yet,” Tshiebwe said. “So, I decided, and He told me He wanted me to go back and just to work because He’s not done with me in this place yet. So, I’ll be back again, so I’ll be here next year for Kentucky. I’ll be in the blue in Kentucky next year again.”
Tshiebwe swept all six of the major National Player of the Year honors after a historic junior season. He became the first player in program history to win the top accolade from The Sporting News, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Associated Press, the United States Basketball Writers Association, the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award.
Since 1977 when all six began being awarded in every season, 28 players have swept the honors. Tshiebwe is the second player coached by John Calipari to earn that distinction, also joining Marcus Camby of UMass in 1996. In addition to becoming the first player in program history to achieve the feat, he is the first player in Southeastern Conference history to win all six awards in the same season.
Tshiebwe not only averaged a double-double but did so with a considerable margin — averaging a team-best 17.4 points and a nation-leading 15.1 rebounds per game. He is the first Division I player who averaged at least 15.0 points and at least 15.0 rebounds per game since Drake’s Lewis Lloyd and Alcorn State’s Larry Smith each did during the 1979-80 season, and the first major-conference player who averaged at least 16.0 points and at least 15.0 rebounds for a season since Bill Walton at UCLA in 1972-73. He became the first Wildcat to do it since Bob Burrow tallied 19.1 points and 17.7 rebounds per game in 1954-55.
He will become just the second player in the Calipari era to return after leading the team in scoring the season before, joining Davion Mintz who played a second season in 2021-22 after pacing the Cats with 11.5 points per game in his first season. Tshiebwe averaged 17.4 points per game, the third best in a single season among all Calipari players. Only Jamal Murray (20.0) and Malik Monk (19.8) averaged more points per game than Tshiebwe.
With 30 points in the NCAA Tournament, Tshiebwe topped 1,000 for his career. In one season with the Wildcats, he poured in 590 points which ranks among the top 35 in single-season UK history.
The Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo native is the first consensus National Player of the Year to return to college basketball since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in 2008-09. Since the inception of the Wooden Award in 1976, Tshiebwe will join Hansbrough and Virginia’s Ralph Sampson (1982-83) to return to school after winning all six major honors.
Tshiebwe was a force in all facets of the game and was the only major conference player who averaged at least 1.6 blocked shots and 1.6 steals per game during the regular season. He also became only the third player in program history to amass at least 500 rebounds in a season. Tshiebwe finished the year with 515 boards.
A consensus All-American, Tshiebwe corralled at least 10 boards in all but two games this season and finished the season with 21 straight games with double-digit rebounds. That’s a record for the Wildcats dating back to the 1967-68 season with complete game-by-game rebounding records. Dan Issel had two stretches of 12 such games. It’s also the longest stretch by any SEC player since at least 1996-97. It’s also the longest streak in one season by any Division I player since Rokas Gustys of Hofstra had 23 straight in 2016.
Tshiebwe was elite on the glass from the very beginning of the season. He set new records for the Champions Classic and UK debut with 20 boards vs. Duke in the season opener, nearly tied the Rupp Arena record with 20 rebounds in his first home game, and then shattered that Rupp record with 28 boards vs. Western Kentucky. That easily surpassed Shaquille O’Neal’s previous mark of 21. It’s worth noting Tshiebwe did that primarily against the tallest player in college basketball, Jamarion Sharp, who stands at 7-foot-5. With 20 boards the following game against Missouri, his 48 boards tied for the most over a two-game span by any Division I player over the last 25 seasons (according to ESPN Stats & Info).
The SEC Player of the Year concluded the season with 16 straight double-doubles, the longest streak since complete game-by-game rebounding records were kept dating back to 1969 for the Wildcats. He totaled 28 double-doubles this season which is a new UK single-season record.
Tshiebwe ended the season becoming only the second Wildcat since 1978-79 to finish the season leading the team in points per game (17.4), rebounds per game (15.1), steals per game (1.8), blocks per game (1.6) and field-goal percentage with a minimum of 100 attempts (60.6%). Davis was the other to achieve the feat.
At the conclusion of the season, Tshiebwe was responsible for 37.8% of all of UK’s rebounds. Taking away team rebounds, that number jumped to 41.2%.
Walter Cornett, of Glendale, Kentucky, is the owner and operator of Walter’s Wildcat World. He founded WildcatWorld.com in 1998 making it one of the oldest Kentucky basketball fan sites in operation today.