LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Oscar Tshiebwe quickly learned achieving his dream of being an NBA draft lottery pick requires more than being college basketball’s best player.
So even after becoming an imposing inside presence on both ends of the floor, the Kentucky junior forward plans to spend the offseason stretching his game beyond the arc and in other phases to get himself — and the Wildcats — to the next level.
“The feedback from the NBA was like, Oscar, you can expand your game from outside, make one or two 3s a game,” Tshiebwe said Friday after announcing on ESPN two days earlier he’d return to school.
He added scouts told him to “fake, attack the rim, make your passes and get better dribbling. You’ll be good at the position next year.”
The native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that name, image and likeness was not a big factor in his decision to return. There are restrictions for foreign student-athletes, but the financial benefit to Tshiebwe could exceed seven figures.
Tshiebwe has been cautious discussing the matter because of his student visa status but recently met with Kentucky Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in an effort to help improve endorsement opportunities for himself and other foreign-born players.
“I tell him, if you can help us all, the international (athletes), we can benefit from these things too,” Tshiebwe said. “We’ve got family we need to help, too. He says he’s going to try because it’s a new thing for him. I know he’s got power.”
As for his play, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Tshiebwe also sounded eager to make suggested physical improvements after sweeping national player of the year honors last season, including AP Player of the Year accolades.
The West Virginia transfer emerged as a consistent double-digit scorer and rebounder at 17.4 points and a nation-leading 15.1 rebounds per game for Kentucky (26-8). Tshiebwe’s performance featured a school-record 26 double-doubles, a run that included his final 16 contests.
But for all of those impressive efforts, many NBA draft boards slotted Tshiebwe in the second round. Those lower-than-expected projections, along with the Wildcats’ stunning first-round NCAA Tournament upset loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s, solidified his decision to return after praying, fasting and talking with his mother.
“I’m good either way because I know God is going to take care of me no matter what I choose to do in my life,” said Tshiebwe, whose frequent professions of faith along with his play have made him popular in the Bluegrass state.
Tshiebwe will be the centerpiece around Kentucky’s revamped roster.
Freshman guard TyTy Washington Jr. has entered the NBA draft and is projected as a likely top-10 selection. Guards Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz exhausted their eligibility, while guard Dontaie Allen and forward Bryce Hopkins have transferred.
Forwards Keion Brooks Jr. and Jacob Toppin and guard Shaedon Sharpe will go through the draft evaluation process but maintain their eligibility with a June 1 deadline of returning to school. Point guard Sahvir Wheeler is expected to be back in Lexington.
Tshiebwe expects to blend well with whoever is around him and handle more attention from opponents.
“I like when I’m a target for a lot of people,” he said. “That’s why I get more prepared.
“Everybody’s going to say, I’m going against Oscar, I’m going to try and destroy him. I’m the one that’s got to make people do that, so I think I’ll be good.”
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