Kentucky’s Tshiebwe to test NBA draft waters

Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe declared for the NBA draft on Friday, but the 2022 Wooden Award winner also left open the option to return to Lexington for one more season.

The senior big man now has until May 31 to withdraw his name from the draft if he chooses to go back to college.

“At this time, I feel as though it is best for me to declare for the NBA Draft while maintaining my college eligibility,” Tshiebwe said. “As I continue down this path, I pray that I can continue to have the amazing love and support of BBN, as you will always be in my heart and prayers. Only God knows what my future holds, but until then, it’s time to get to work.”

Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9 center from Congo, was the consensus National Player of the Year in 2022 after averaging 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds — leading the country in the latter category. He didn’t repeat as Player of the Year this past season, but still paced the nation in rebounding at 13.7 per game. Tshiebwe also averaged 16.5 points and shot 56% from the field, earning All-American honors in the process.

He played one and a half seasons at West Virginia to open his career before transferring to Kentucky in January 2021.

Despite his college production, Tshiebwe is not viewed as a surefire NBA draft selection. He’s No. 74 in ESPN’s 2023 NBA draft rankings.

“Oscar fulfilled one dream by being a Kentucky basketball player, but he’s ready to chase this next dream,” coach John Calipari said. “There is no player in that league like Oscar. He’s also an ideal player to have in your locker room because he will truly care about his teammates, the organization and the community. I’m excited for Oscar to go through this process to see if it’s his time to live out his ultimate goal.”

Kentucky has already seen starters Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin declare for the NBA draft with the intent to remain in the draft, while Antonio Reeves is doing so while maintaining his college eligibility. Sahvir Wheeler and Ugonna Onyenso have entered the transfer portal.

Calipari is bringing in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, led by overall No. 1 prospect Justin Edwards, No. 2 D.J. Wagner and No. 4 Aaron Bradshaw. The Wildcats are also in pursuit of Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, the No. 1 player in the portal.