MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If not for a friend of his older brother, Oscar Tshiebwe may be the best soccer player in Congo that you never heard of.
He likely would have been just as popular back home playing soccer as he is now playing high school basketball for Kennedy Catholic in Hermitage, Pa.
“I was really tall, so everybody started calling me Michael Jordan, even though I was not playing basketball,” Tshiebwe said Saturday after scoring 25 points and adding 13 rebounds to lead the Golden Eagles past Morgantown High, 57-40, in the American Homes Classic. “ People on the street would keep saying, ‘Jordan, Jordan.’ ”
There is so much to know about the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder who has already signed to play at West Virginia next season.
It begins with his character and demeanor. The next time he refuses to shake a hand, take a picture or stop to say some encouraging words to someone who needs a pick-me-up, it will be the first time ever.
“Little kids come up to him all the time and he makes sure he talks to them all,” Kennedy Catholic coach Rick Mancino said. “He appreciates the attention. He jokes around with people. He’s the first guy to go over and talk to a teammate if something’s wrong. He’s got that thing that draws people to him. He’s such a warm-hearted person. He’s special.”
Special enough that after a summer of dominating the AAU circuit, he got the recruiting attention of Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Suddenly, Tshiebwe went from being a kid who came to the United States in November 2015 to focus on school and learn the game of basketball to being a basketball celebrity.
“I can tell you basketball is going to change my life,” Tshiebwe said. “It’s going to change my life in that I can’t take it easy. I have to push hard every day and work hard. I’m always thinking about how I can get better and how I can become the best player I can.”
“He handles it all well, because he gives everyone his time,” Mancino added. “If you talk to him, he’s going to give you his attention. People like that. When he walks into the gym, say we have practice at four o’clock, well by the time he gets done shaking everyone’s hand, it’s 4:20. It’s so hard to yell at him. You couldn’t ask for a better kid.”
Being the best player he can be includes adding an outside shot to his game. Against the Mohigans, he drained an 18-footer at the top of the key just inside the 3-point line. He then added a 3-pointer from the wing in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not really all that comfortable shooting threes. It’s something I’m working on,” Tshiebwe said. “I’m more about going after every rebound. I’ve got to try different things. I work on my threes every day. Next year, I’m at another level, so I have to keep working.”
The last thing to know: Tshiebwe fell in love with West Virginia before the Mountaineers fell in love with him.
“The first time I watched West Virginia play, my coach asked me if I liked them,” Tshiebwe said. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s where I want to go to school.’ This was just two weeks after I first came to the USA. I didn’t know anything else about other schools.”
The five-star prospect said he loved playing in front of the West Virginia coaching staff, who sat in a row of chairs in a corner of the gym. He appreciated the support he received during the game and was happy to put on a good show.
“It was really important for me,” Tshiebwe said. “People know I’m coming here next year to help the team. I was so excited for everybody and I thank everybody for coming out to support me. It was crazy. It was great to see everybody.”