Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe stays in NBA draft, leaving Wildcats roster in tough shape

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 19: Oscar Tshiebwe #34 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts during the second half against the Kansas State Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Fieldhouse in Greensboro Coliseum on March 19, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe is keeping his name in the NBA draft, he announced Wednesday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Oscar Tshiebwe’s time in Kentucky is over.

Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9 center, announced Wednesday that he will forfeit his final season of college eligibility and retain his name in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Tshiebwe has been a star at Kentucky the past two seasons, including being named the 2022 consensus National Player of the Year. That season, Tshiebwe averaged 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds per game. He nearly matched that last season, scoring 16.5 points and 13.7 rebounds per game for the Wildcats.

Tshiebwe, a two-time All-American, put up big numbers in what turned out to be his last two games in a Kentucky uniform. He posted eight points and 25 rebounds in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament first round victory over Providence. And in the second-round loss to Kansas State, Tshiebwe scored 25 points and knocked down 18 boards.

Tshiebwe participated in the NBA combine last offseason but opted to return to school. He returned to the combine this year and worked for an array of NBA teams, including the Atlanta Hawks earlier Wednesday. After going through the pre-draft process, Tshiebwe had until midnight Wednesday night to decide whether to keep his name in the draft or return to college. He chose the professional path.

Tshiebwe, a Congo native who played high school basketball in the Pittsburgh area, began his college career in West Virginia before transferring to Kentucky. Tshiebwe averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a freshman, then 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in just 10 games for the Mountaineers as a sophomore before deciding to trade.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Tshiebwe “has a great opportunity to come back and break more records and set the national bar again for NIL,” but he has decided he was ready to “go after his dreams”.

“Oscar did things that no other player has done in decades, and I wish I could have won more, but he gave his all to Kentucky. He also became the first member of his family to receive a college degree and I know how much it means to him and more importantly his mother,” Calipari said. “Oscar had a great opportunity to come back and break more records and set again the national bar for NIL, but he is ready to fully pursue his dreams and he has our support. He is ready for the next level because he has a skill that is elite and will translate into this league. I’m thrilled to see his journey unfold, but I know Lexington and the BBN will always be in his home.

Kentucky awaits decisions from Chris Livingston and Antonio Reeves

Like Tshiebwe, there are two other Kentucky players who have yet to publicly announce their decisions for next season.

Chris Livingston and Antonio Reeves have both put their names in the NBA draft pool and have until midnight Wednesday night to decide if they want to return to school or start their professional careers. According to multiple outlets, Livingston and Reeves are expected to keep their names in the draft.

Livingston, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, was a freshman last season. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds while averaging 22.4 minutes per game. Reeves, a transfer from Illinois State, was Kentucky’s second leading scorer behind Tshiebwe. A 6-foot-5 guard, Reeves averaged 14.4 points per game while shooting 39.8 percent from 3-point range.

Kentucky could be reduced to just 7 scholarship players

If those two also move on, Kentucky will only have seven scholarship players on the roster on June 1. Four players transferred – Daimion Collins (LSU), CJ Fredrick (Cincinnati), Lance Ware (Villanova) and Sahvir Wheeler (Washington). And two others — Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin — declared themselves for the draft without maintaining their college eligibility.

That leaves two returning scholarship players, striker Adou Thiero and center Ugonna Onyenso. Both are sophomores who saw limited action in their first few seasons at Lexington.

Calipari has the nation’s #1 recruiting class coming soon. This class includes four five-star rookies and one four-star rookie and is ranked No. 1 in the nation by Rivals. The class includes Camden (NJ) High School teammates Aaron Bradshaw and DaJuan Wagner Jr., as well as Philadelphia winger Justin Edwards and Atlanta point guard Robert Dillingham. Bradshaw (No. 2), Edwards (No. 3), Wagner (No. 6) and Dillingham (No. 15) are all ranked in the national top 15 for the Class of 2023. Kentucky native Reed Sheppard, a guard from sharp shot, is the fifth member of the class. Sheppard is ranked No. 28 in the class and is considered a four-star prospect.

Somewhere else, Kentucky reportedly involved in Creighton Arthur Kaluma transfer, who withdrew from the draft earlier on Wednesday and has his name in the portal. There will be other quality players available on the transfer market once the NBA draft deadline officially passes, but Calipari still has a long way to go to fill out the rest of his roster after eliminating several. other transfer gate targets this offseason.

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