Rebounding savant Oscar Tshiebwe finally gets NBA chance he’s deserved for years

Oscar Tshiebwe finally got his shot with the Indiana Pacers this week after a dominant college career and a record-setting start in the G League. (NBA/Getty Images)

Oscar Tshiebwe finally got his shot with the Indiana Pacers this week after a dominant college career and a record-setting start in the G League. (NBA/Getty Images)

Say you went to prison for 15 years.

Hear me out– you weren’t guilty, you just got framed. Like that kid from Making a Murderer.

Say you didn’t know the impact that Steph Curry and analytics have had on basketball– and that today, if you’re not 7 feet tall or can shoot 3s, or sometimes both, NBA scouts don’t really want that much to do with you.

Say you came back home, rehabilitated yourself and started watching college hoops again from 2019-23. You would have been shook by conference realignment. West Virginia is in the Big 12? You would have been amazed to hear about Sister Jean. She’s got grandkids already?

You would have thought Oscar Tshiebwe was a lottery pick.

I mean, it was obvious.

Here’s this bruising, sculpted big man with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, rewriting the NCAA rebounding record book while wearing a Kentucky uniform. He’s a two-time All-American, 2022 National Player of the Year, averaging 16.5 points and a ridiculous 13.7 rebounds per game, all while shooting 58 percent from the floor and even 71 percent from the free-throw line.

He’s leading the nation in rebounding two years in a row, setting shot-clock era records for rebounds IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT, he’s grabbing 25 boards in 33 minutes– how is this kid not already in the pros, I mean you’ve been in prison awhile but not long enough for a prodigy like this to have to stay in college for four years? Is he Kareem? Is everyone else insane?! It almost makes you crazy enough to want to commit a—

Whoa whoa, you really got carried away there. No wonder you got locked up (just sayin).

Oscar Tshiebwe was one of the greatest rebounders in college basketball history at Kentucky, once racking up 25 in an NCAA Tournament game against Providence. (AP Photo)

Anyone who watches basketball without an accompanying calculator could have seen that Tshiebwe was a special talent. OK, he’s 6-foot-9. He’s not a 3-point shooter. Lock him up. But he was a Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman-level rebounder in college, and again… he’s got a 7-3 wingspan.

And yet, the 2023 NBA Draft came and went– and he wasn’t selected. Because… analytics, I guess?

Tshiebwe signed a two-way deal with the Indiana Pacers after the draft and reported to the team’s G League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

He played a total of seven games in the G League and… you want to take a guess at what his stat line looks like?

18.9 points, 17.9 rebounds per game.

Who could have foreseen??

In addition to all of that, Tshiebwe, who’s originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, worked like crazy to get himself to this position, coming over to the U.S. as a teenager and playing for Kennedy Catholic High School in Pennsylvania. He was an immediate star there too, averaging 23 and 18 and becoming the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American.

He committed to West Virginia and played his first two college seasons in Morgantown before hearing the call from Kentucky, where he presumably thought dominating for the Wildcats would get him more of an NBA look.

Tshiebwe was finally called up to the league on Dec. 9, ahead of the Pacers’ In-Season Tournament final against the Lakers. He played one minute, but managed to get a rebound (it’s uncanny isn’t it?), get fouled and drain a free throw. He did the same thing in six minutes against the Bucks on Wednesday, scoring his first official NBA point (In-Season Tournament final stats don’t count toward the regular season).

You may have heard Tshiebwe’s name in the news lately but it wasn’t for his lifelong dream finally being realized– it was because he was  chased down by a raging-mad Giannis Antetokounmpo, who wanted the game ball Tshiebwe and the Pacers took to celebrate his first career point because Giannis had coincidentally scored a Bucks franchise record 64 points in the game. This dude can’t catch a break.

What does this all mean?

Maybe it’s that sometimes, people who may not fit the prototype for a certain role but who have shown a clear, natural gift for it may just deserve a chance. After all, scouts had similar doubts about Steph Curry coming into the league and all he ended up doing was changing the way basketball is played.

Tshiebwe probably won’t end up doing that, but he should provide value for the running-and-gunning Pacers, who could seemingly use another big man to defend, grab boards and start the break so Tyrese Haliburton and Co. can run people out of the gym.

Sometimes, talent is obvious. It’s not all that complicated.

Even to someone who’s been locked up for years, like yourself.