Nothing gets in the way of Tshiebwe when it comes to rebounding

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Oscar Tshiebwe isn’t worried about scoring. He’s more concerned about rebounding more than anything else when he’s on the court.

“Rebounding is going to help us win the game,” Kentucky’s transfer center said. “Everybody wants to get better, everybody wants to do fancy, different things, but for me, rebounding means a lot. Rebounding can help your team to win the game. You give one more chance to your team. Since I figured it out, if I have to fight, I have to work for the rebound, I’m going to fight for that rebound like no one believes.”

That belief was instilled into him by his father at an early age, but he admits it took a while to develop a knack for rebounding the basketball.

“In everything, you need time, like my dad used to tell me — there are no shortcuts in life, you have to work on everything,” he said. “If somebody shoots from deep, I know 75 percent might go one way, 25 percent might come back a different way. So I have to position myself in the 75 percent, because I know if you miss, it’s probably going to go that way. And I’ll get it.”

It’s an approach Tshiebwe has used since he began playing basketball when he was 15. His old-school approach to rebounding has shown in Kentucky’s first two games of the season. In a 79-71 loss to Duke in the Champions Classic last week, he scored 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. He matched that effort with14 points and another batch of 20 boards in a dominating win over Robert Morris in the home opener Friday night.

In the first two games of his Kentucky career, Tshiebwe has grabbed 40 rebounds, the most in school history, and tied former Kentucky players Chris Mills and Jared Prickett for the most by a Wildcat at Rupp Arena. Shaquille O’Neal holds the record for the most rebounds recorded on Kentucky’s home court when he snagged 21 against the Wildcats in 1990.

While Tshiebwe has shown what he can do when the popcorn is popping, he never stops and exhibits the same work ethic behind the scenes in practice, his teammates confirmed.

“Oscar is a good rebounder because he just never stops hustling, he just fights for every rebound, that’s his mentality he just wants to get every single rebound,” Kentucky freshman Damion Collins said.

His coach, John Calipari, said his top rebounder is “a great kid” and “he smiles every day.” The Kentucky coach also hasn’t thrown the entire playbook at Tshiebwe and is still working on developing a good post scheme.

“The more you throw at them, the more they get confused,” Calipari said. “We have got to come up with some specific things to where we’re getting him the ball and letting him go to work. The other thing is he has got to learn to dunk balls when we throw lobs. When we throw a lob, dunk the ball.”

Calipari said Tshiebwe has never played that way but is confident it won’t be an issue moving forward.

“We’re still working on footwork,” Calipari admitted. “He’s stopping his feet. You have got to keep your feet moving.

Then when you catch it, you got to go right into the shot, or you catch it and ball fake and go into the shot. … My concern right now is you go on the road, and all of a sudden the guy is going overboard trying to box him out and he rebounds it and they say over the back. Then I’ll lose my mind. We are working and teaching holding your ground and going after the ball, not pushing.”

Calipari knows he has a rebounder in Tshiebwe and wants him to continue rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor.

“He’s not moving you,” he said. “You get him under the basket, the only one he gets is the one that goes through rim. He can grab that one. Other than that, we want him to go get these balls.”

Tshiebwe has done just that in the first two games of the year.

Gametracker: Mount Saint Mary’s at Kentucky, Tuesday, 7 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or via Twitter at keithtaylor21