MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Despite the team success No. 8 West Virginia has had to start this season, sophomore big man Oscar Tshiebwe has failed to live up to lofty expectations.
“I expect to see a lot more from Oscar,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said following a win over Richmond on Sunday. “Oscar’s a talented guy, he’s getting better, he’s starting to become more and more and more the old Oscar. But I expect a lot from Oscar, a lot more, actually.”
After an all-conference freshman season in which he averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, many thought Tshiebwe would take that next step into stardom entering his second season of college ball. Before this season started, Tshiebwe was named an All-Big 12 preseason player, he was included on the watch lists for the Karl Malone Award, the Naismith Trophy and NABC Player of the Year and he was ranked as one of the best players in the country.
Through the team’s first seven games, however, that next step and even the production from last season have not been there for the 6-foot-9 sophomore. In seven games, Tshiebwe has scored double-digit points just three times and has just one double-double. Last season, Tshiebwe scored double-digit points in 19 of 31 games and had 10 double-doubles.
He has struggled to stay on the court for long periods of time this season due to foul trouble and has not been making baskets consistently from short range. He hit a low point against North Texas on Friday, shooting 0 of 5 from the floor and not scoring a single point. After the game, Tshiebwe and assistant coach Erik Martin sat on the bench for several minutes talking.
“After the North Texas game, he waited for me and we had a little bit of a talk,” Tshiebwe explained. “He said in the game of basketball, don’t worry about how you play and just play hard. He said you’ve got to have fun and don’t worry about the game you just played because we’re never going to get it back. You’ve got to think about the next game and how you’re going to dominate. Just be you and go have fun and dominate.”
Tshiebwe said he had noticed on film that he has not been as active running up and down the court this season. After the talk with Martin, Tshiebwe took a different mindset into Sunday’s game against Richmond and turned in an encouraging 12-point, 6 of 8 shooting performance.
“I’ve struggled a little bit,” Tshiebwe admitted. “I know I haven’t been running, I just need to come out like I came out today. Today I came out saying ‘I’ve got to run the floor, I’ve got to dominate because nobody can run with me’. I spoke to coach Huggins before the game he said, ‘do what you do best and you’re going to be great’. That’s what I came out with today.”
Tshiebwe was also able to stay out of foul trouble against the Spiders, picking up just one foul in 24 minutes of play. He said playing while having to worry about fouls causes him to be less aggressive, especially on defense,
“When I’m in foul trouble I play with a little bit of worry in my head,” Tshiebwe said. “That’s not good, that’s not helping the team. It is good to stay away from foul trouble because I can play hard for the whole time and not think about not trying to pick up another foul. It was good, I felt great today.”
“Oscar’s going to be Oscar,” junior forward Derek Culver said Friday. “What you’re seeing right now, don’t get accustomed to seeing it. This is just something that he’s going through. I’ve been through it, everybody that’s played at a high level has been through it. If you think this is Oscar that you’re seeing out there, it’s not. Whatever he’s going through right now, it’s going to pass pretty soon.”