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Men's Basketball

Davion Mintz Asks the Question, “Oscar to the Rafters in Rupp?”

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Photos by Chet White | UK Athletics

In just one season, Oscar Tshiebwe has left a lasting impression on the Big Blue Nation and the Kentucky basketball record books, but is it enough to put his jersey in the rafters?

There are 38 players with their jerseys hanging in the Rupp Arena rafters, let’s compare “Big O” to the other 38 and see where he adds up after one season.

Stats

In terms of games, with only 34, Tshiebwe would have played the least amount of any player to have their jersey retired. The same could be said for his career totals as they are low in comparison after playing only one season. However, in terms of averages, Tshiebwe holds up with the best of them.

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In rebounding, which is Oscar’s expertise, he ranks second all-time with 15.2 rebounds per game, only behind Dan Issel’s 16.1. Pointwise, he would rank 11th with 17.4 points per game, ahead of names like Jack Givens, Kenny Walker, Tony Delk, and others.

While averaging a double-double, Tshiebwe raked in 28 of them, which is a Kentucky single-season record and places him top-10 all-time in Kentucky basketball history.

The total career totals may not be up to par, but the averages are and one has to consider the fact that in the current landscape, high-level college players don’t stay three or four years anymore.

Check out the statistical comparison spreadsheet here.

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Accolades

As of writing this article, Tshiebwe has won five of the six Player of the Year awards, with the John R. Wooden Award set to be announced on April 5th. Currently, the frontrunner for the Wooden award, if Tshiebwe were to win, he would become the ONLY Kentucky Wildcat to be unanimous Player of the Year.

In his flurry of awards, Tshiebwe became the 21st Consensus First Team All-American in Kentucky basketball history. Of the twenty previous players, fifteen of them have their jerseys retired, with the five exclusions all being in the last 25 years: Ron Mercer (1997), John Wall (2010), Anthony Davis (2012), Willie Cauley-Stein (2015), and Tyler Ulis (2016).

In just one season, Tshiebwe has filled his trophy cabinets full and created a track record that puts himself not just in the elite of Kentucky basketball history, but college basketball history.

Impact

Oscar Tshiebwe has had as much impact on and off the court of any Kentucky player in recent memory.

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On the court, Tshiebwe’s impact is shown with some historic numbers. For the below examples we are only looking at his career at Kentucky.

In win shares per 40 minutes, a statistic that divvies credit individually for a team’s success, Tshiebewe recorded a .297 this past season. This ranked second in the NCAA and would put him only behind Nikola Jokić in the NBA Another impact stat, plus-minus, he recorded a 13.3, putting him 5th in NCAA. (Basketball-Reference)

*Win Shares is a player statistic that attempts to divvy up credit for team success to the individuals on the team.
**Plus-Minus, a.k.a. +/-, simply keeps track of the net changes in the score when a given player is either on or off the court. 

While both of these statistical categories have only started recently being recorded in the last 15 years, they are some of the best ways to quantify a player’s impact on the court, and the numbers show that Tshiebwe’s impact cannot be understated.

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Off the court, Tshiebwe has been a tremendous ambassador for the program and someone that people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond can look up to.

One such example is one that he had with Beaumont Middle School, a school in Lexington with sixteen students from Tshiebwe’s home country of Africa. During his visits to the school, Tshiebwe was able connections to with the students, and they were shown that they can be successful in America. See the story here.

It is a tough decision, but the sport has changed and successful players rarely stay three or four years anymore and he has the averages and accolades to compare to any player in program history. With that said, if Tshiebwe were to return to Kentucky for a second season and put up similar numbers, I think at that point it’s a no-brainer.

What do you think? Who are some other recent players you think should have their jersey retired?

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BB Recruiting

No. 1 Point Guard Robert Dillingham Chooses Kentucky

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UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats just added a significant piece to their 2023 recruiting class, No. 1 point guard Robert Dillingham, choosing Kentucky over Auburn, Louisville, and USC.

Back in December, Dillingham had originally elected to stay home and committed to NC State. This came as a last-minute surprise, as Dillingham held seven 247 Sports Crystal Ball predictions to Kentucky just 48 hours prior to his decision.

However, Dillingham decommitted from NC State back in March after the school received NCAA violations. Upon reopening his recruitment, UK assistant coach Chin Coleman told Dillingham, “I’m not gonna lose this time,” and he held true to his word.

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In Dillingham, Kentucky is getting an extremely talented player that many have started to compare to long-time No. 1 recruit DJ Wagner, who Dillingham has even expressed interest in playing alongside.

Despite his small 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, Dillingham is the perfect modern point guard, possessing elite speed, finishing ability, ball-handling skills, and perimeter shooting. Collectively, these attributes make Dillingham the dangerous offensive weapon that he is and gives him the confidence to score at all three levels.

With that said, Dillingham does not rely on his scoring ability to make an impact, as he is also willing to make the extra pass and put his teammates in positions to succeed.

In addition to his electric style of play, Dillingham possesses an alpha mentality and toughness. However, Dillingham does need to build on his frame and improve on the defensive end, as he can lose focus at times.

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Dillingham joins Reed Sheppard to give the Kentucky two 5-star recruits and moves the Wildcats’ recruiting class into third place in the 247 Sports rankings, behind Duke and North Carolina.

If you are unfamiliar with Dillingham and his playstyle, watch this breakdown and get up to speed on the most recent Wildcat commit.

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Men's Basketball

Former Kentucky Strength Coach Turns Heel and Says “Go Cards”

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UK Athletics

Back in late April, it was announced that the men’s Kentucky basketball program and former strength coach Rob Harris had parted ways.

Harris had been with the program for eight seasons and while no reason was ever officially given for his departure, it can be attributed to a combination of recent lower-body injuries, receiving a technical foul for a scuffle at Tennessee back in February, and a public video of him having an outburst at his daughter’s basketball game.

While Harris is looking for a new position, Louisville is looking for a new strength and conditioning coach. Could the two join forces against a common enemy, being Kentucky?

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It certainly looks like Harris would be on board. On Wednesday afternoon, Harris made a heel move and tweeted his support of Kenny Payne and the Louisville Cardinals.

If Harris does join the staff, it will be another another piece to reviatlize the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry.

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BB Recruiting

Kentucky Expressing Interest in 2024 Top 100 In-State Recruit, Travis Perry

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In the 2023 class, John Calipari has already secured a commitment from Reed Sheppard, the best prospect in the state of Kentucky and ranked top-25 nationally.

Looking ahead to the 2024 class, Calipari is already showing interest in Lyon County’s Travis Perry, who is ranked as a top-two prospect in the state and ranked in the top 100 nationally.

This past weekend, Calipari was in attendance for the Titans-Rockets Classic to see Xavier Booker – who has made an astronomical jump in the latest recruiting rankings – and was also given the opportunity to watch Perry.

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The Lyon County product must have left a lasting impression as Travis’s father, Ryan Perry, says that Calipari has been in contact “quite a bit” this week. On top of that, Travis and his parents – who are Kentucky graduates and admitted Wildcat fans – are planning a visit to Kentucky this weekend to talk with Calipari and tour the campus.

To those who follow Kentucky high school basketball Perry’s name is very recognizable. Playing varsity since his seventh-grade year – averaging 20.6 points per game that season – Perry has scored 3,189 career points and is well on his way to breaking the state record of 4,337 points, held by “King” Kelly Coleman.

What is Perry’s motivation? “I’m just trying to get one more point than the other team, because I gotta ride home with my dad. And that’s the coach, and I don’t want to have to listen to him complain the whole way,” Perry told Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader.

Perry currently holds offers from Creighton, Ole Miss, Iowa, and Purdue among others but expect his recruitment to continue heating up. Since last weekend’s event, Juwan Howard and Michigan have also expressed interest.

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Check out Perry’s highlights as he went head-to-head with Sheppard and North Laurel in last summer’s Titans-Rockets Classic.

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