WVU Coaches, Fans Get A Chance To Check Out Oscar Tshiebwe
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Seated a few feet from the end of the court at Morgantown High on Saturday night was the entire Mountaineer men’s basketball coaching staff – Bob Huggins, Larry Harrison, Ron Everhart and Erik Martin.
They were there to watch West Virginia’s prize 2019 recruit, Oscar Tshiebwe, and his Kennedy Catholic Golden Eagles take on the Morgantown Mohigans in an early season high school hoops battle.
MHS, which won the Class AAA state championship in 2016, entered Saturday’s anticipated clash with a 4-0 record. Kennedy Catholic was 2-1, having lost a 52-49 overtime decision to Chaminade, Mo., the night before in a tournament in Toledo, Ohio.
The Golden Knights got into Morgantown in time to see the Mountaineers defeat Jacksonville State earlier in the day, and then made their way across town to Morgantown High School. There Kennedy Catholic pushed past MHS 57-40.
Oscar certainly was the star attraction, and West Virginia’s coaches weren’t the only ones who wanted to see the guy they call Big O. Current WVU junior Sagaba Konate, who himself is a Kennedy Catholic alum, hobbled in on crutches, propped up his injured right knee on the bleachers by his coaches, and was soon joined there by a trio of others former Mountaineers – Kevin Jones, John Flowers and Nate Adrian. In all, seemingly half of Morgantown turned out, everyone wanting to see what all Oscar fuss was about.
“I was excited for this, playing in front of the people who will be supporting me next year,” smiled Tshiebwe after the game in which the MHS student body spent much of the fourth quarter chanting “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar,” an unprecedented compliment for a visitor. “They showed me love.”
What they witnessed was an impressive preview of things to come for Tshiebwe once he changes his uniform from maroon-and-gold to the gold-and-blue version.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward finished Saturday’s game with a stat line of 25 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots. He hit 10-of-16 field goal attempts, including a 3-pointer, and was 4-of-6 from the foul line. Because Kennedy Catholic, which is located about an hour north of Pittsburgh in Hermitage, Pa., has a couple other tall post players, Tshiebwe wasn’t confined to just the paint on either offense or defense. Not only did he hit a couple perimeter jumpers, but he also had some defensive assignments against Mohigan guards out in open court and had no problems handling the task.
“He has fast hands, and he moves so well, he can guard about anyone on the floor,” said Kennedy Catholic head coach Rick Mancio.
“Then offensively I’ve told Oscar he has a green light on all shots, even from 3-point range, as long as he doesn’t force it,” added Mancino, whose Golden Knights won their third straight Pennsylvania state Class A championship last year. “He’s worked hard to improve his range. He’s really special.”
Konate helped Kennedy Catholic earn that 2016 state championship prior to becoming a Mountaineer. Because they are both big kids who went to the same high school, Konate and Tshiebwe often draw comparisons.
“Sagaba concentrated more on his defense when he was with us, and he was the best defensive player in the country in high school, and that continued once he got to college,” explained Mancino, who is in his 10th season as the head coach of the Golden Eagles. “Sagaba has really worked hard on his offense once he’s gotten to West Virginia, and that’s shown in his improvement there. Sagaba wasn’t as big as Oscar in high school, though. He was about 230 when he was with us, and Oscar is 250-plus. But Oscar is still the fastest kid on the floor and the highest jumper. Both are great players, but they are a little different.”
Tshiebwe (pronounced SHOO-bway) grew up in the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is in south central Africa. He moved the United States prior to his freshman year of high school, attending Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Va., for two years before transferring to Kennedy Catholic in the summer of 2017.
Along the way he’s matured, gained a good grasp on English and really developed as a basketball player.
Like so many kids around the world, Oscar mainly played soccer when he was young. But as he grew taller and taller, those around him started pointing him away from the soccer pitch and towards the basketball court. He had never played hoops until May of 2014, but his talents were quickly apparent.
“We did a lot of drills in soccer that help me in basketball,” noted Tshiebwe. “It helps me a lot today.
“Soccer is the sport everyone plays in Africa, and it’s what I wanted to do, too,” he noted. “But I grew so tall, everyone called me ‘Michael Jordan’ even though I wasn’t playing basketball at the time. I had a brother convince me to try basketball, and I realized it was something that could be important for me and my family in the future.”
Four and a half years after picking up a basketball, Tshiebwe is still refining his skills.
“I have changed my jump shot,” he explained. “I can shoot the three a little. I’m working to get every move better. I’m still not completely comfortable with threes, but I think I’m getting better.
“I still haven’t forgotten the other parts of my game. I feel like I should go and get every rebound. That’s a big part of my job.”
Rated the ninth best center in the country by ESPN, Tshiebwe has seen his stock rocket up the chart since exploding on to the AAU scene this past summer.
“I’m biased obviously, and I love him to death, but I honestly believe he is the best player in the country,” said Mancino, said of Tshiebwe, who is averaging 24.3 points and 19.0 rebounds so far this young season. “No one plays harder then him. No one rebounds better than him, and you won’t find a nicer person than him. He’s just a great kid. Coach Huggs and West Virginia have got themselves a great one.”