Oscar Tshiebwe was the most dominant player in college basketball in 2021-22, earning unanimous National Player of the Year honors after averaging a team-high 17.4 points and a nation-leading 15.1 rebounds per contest. The First-Team All-American, First-Team All-SEC selection and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year finalist set a school single-season record with 28 double-doubles while finishing the season as the only major-conference player averaging 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals per game.
To put it simply, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound center was unstoppable. He shattered records essentially every time he stepped on the floor.
We all saw it in person and on television, but what was it like being on the floor with Tshiebwe? KSR caught up with some of his enemies in the frontcourt during the conference at SEC Media Day last week in Birmingham. Just how difficult is it to guard Kentucky’s star center and what does his return to school mean for college basketball?
Colin Castleton (Florida)
“Everybody knows he’s one of the best college basketball players in the country. He was voted the best basketball player in the country. What he brings every single night is something a lot of people can’t match, he’s definitely a tough guard. I feel like this year, there will be ways for people to learn certain things about his game and maybe stop him here and there a little bit, but he’s one of a kind. He’s someone who hasn’t seen college basketball in a lot of years. I’m looking forward to the matchup, I’m excited. I’m healthy, back to 100%, which I wasn’t back then (when we played them).
“It’s a full load (guarding him). You have to make sure you don’t take a play off, because he goes every single time. He’s not like a lot of other guys. Other players might take a play or two off, and you know you don’t have to hit them, but Oscar goes every time. He’s super athletic, super high-energy, someone that I really enjoy playing against.”
Josiah Jordan James (Tennessee)
“It’s awesome for them (with Tshiebwe coming back). He’ll definitely add another dynamic (option) with scoring and rebounding. He’s a special player, really tough to guard. I wish him the best of luck when we’re not playing them [laughs].
“It’s a lot of fun (battling against him). It gets down and dirty — well, I wouldn’t say dirty, but you definitely have to use all your strength to try to get the rebound from him. It just seems like he has magnets. Once he gets the ball, it’s over with. You either have to foul him or he’s going to get a shot off. It’s a lot of fun, definitely a great matchup every time we play them. With Kentucky, it’s always fun, always a wild game. We always look forward to playing them.
“Your only hope is to contain him. Sometimes you have to send two at him to box him out, just hope you can get the rebound. He’s a hard guard, can shoot the ball well for a big. Once he gets in the paint, he’s going up, and more times than not he’s going to make it. It’s a challenge. But we played well (as a team) in two of the three times we faced them last season. He’s gotten better, but we’ve gotten better, so it’s going to be an exciting meeting the two times we play them this year.”
Kario Oquendo (Georgia)
“Obviously, I’d like to play against Oscar Tshiebwe again. His motor is crazy. The way he goes after it and plays really hard is impressive. Kentucky has a really good program, they have a good culture around there with the basketball program.”
Kamani Johnson (Arkansas)
“He had a great season last year. I mean, the numbers he would put up and the things he was able to do, it was pretty impressive. Even going against him, me and Jaylin (Williams) realized how strong he was and stuff like that. He had a great season. It was kind of surprising to see him come back, but I know why he’s coming back. He’s coming back so he can try to gain more team success than he did last year. And that was one of the main reasons I came back too, so it’s going to be fun matching up with him this year. We’re looking forward to it.
“It’s fun for me. I like it (battling against him in the post). He’s a physical player and I’m a physical player, so I like matchups like that. That’s why you play basketball, for matchups like that.”
Henry Coleman III (Texas A&M)
“Oscar is a heck of a player. I had the chance to play against him in high school, we both played for the same travel basketball organization. He’s just one of those players, a heck of a player. His ability to rebound and dominate the paint, that’s who he is and that’s what makes Oscar. I’m happy for him and happy for his success.
“(Those battles) are what you live for, what you prepare for. When we’re sitting in a hotel room or sitting in some back gym in Las Vegas or New York or something, these are the moments you wait for. Playing against him last year was unbelievable and a ton of fun.”
Jaylin Williams (Auburn)
“Kentucky, they’re a big school, Big Blue or whatever. I like competing against them because it’s always — the Jungle goes crazy. It’s pretty cool to be in a league with someone like Oscar, the National Player of the Year, all the awards he won. That’s big time for him. Hopefully he has another great year, but that’s about it.”
GG Jackson (South Carolina)
“Man… Oscar is a freak of nature. I haven’t gotten to see him in person, but I feel like I’ll be a little intimidated. I feel like I’ll try him at the rim from time to time, hopefully I can catch him on one. Hopefully he’s lacking and I can punch it on his head.
“He’s the SEC Player of the Year and he’s probably No. 1 on the list to win it again. I definitely feel like he’s going to be a big challenge.”