PITTSBURGH — There have been very few recruits that have come to West Virginia University with as much hype and excitement as Oscar Tshiebwe has brought with him.
The McDonald’s All-American could have gone to virtually any university in the country but chose to come to WVU and Mountaineers fans have been so excited to see him play. After a disappointing college debut against Akron where he played only 12 minutes, Tshiebwe burst onto the scene Friday night in Pittsburgh.
He led all players with 20 points and 17 rebounds in the 68-53 win over the rival Panthers, showing that he might be able to live up to even the loftiest of expectations fans have for him.
Head coach Bob Huggins knew that Tshiebwe could have a game like this, even after a poor showing in the season opener.
“I just told him he wasn’t active enough,” Huggins said. “He was looking to score instead of doing what he does and what he does is rebound the ball probably as good as anybody in college basketball. I just try to get him to do what he’s good at doing.”
The 20 point, 17 rebound performance by a freshman is something that WVU has not seen since last season. On Feb. 26, 2019, then-freshman Derek Culver scored 22 points and had 21 rebounds in a game against TCU. The trick, however, is that game against TCU went into triple overtime. Culver performance came in 50 minutes of playing, Tshiebwe’s performance Friday came in just 34 minutes. Before that, you have to go back to 1975 to fins such a freshman performance.
Oscar Tshiebwe had 20 points and 17 boards vs. Pitt. Only the 4th time a WVU freshman has posted those numbers in a game.
Others: Derek Culver vs. TCU (2019)
Mo Robinson vs. St. Francis (1975)
Warren Baker vs. VT (1973) pic.twitter.com/p28jYNHaPd
— WVU Basketball (@WVUhoops) November 16, 2019
Tshiebwe’s efforts on, and off, the court seems to have already won the admiration of his teammates.
“When is Oscar not going? That’s an honest question,” sophomore wing Emmitt Matthews said. “Every practice he’s like that, it translates right to the game. As a freshman we tell him ‘you’re going to have ups and downs but if you play your heart out you’re not going to have any bumps in the road’. The kid’s got heart, he looked like superman out there tonight.”
“That’s a different level of a double-double, I couldn’t be more happy for him,” guard Jordan McCabe said. “That’s my son that just happens to be a little bit bigger and doesn’t look exactly like me. I’m proud of him, so proud of him, he works his tail off…I love him to death, he had a great game tonight.”
Tshiebwe’s work ethic has been highly touted since coming to the Mountain State, but those that knew him before are not surprised by it.
“He just works so hard. That was his specialty, nobody outworked him,” Tshiebwe’s high school coach, Rick Mancino, said earlier this week. “He’s not going to let you beat him. He’s just not going to let guys out-work him. It bothers him if somebody does good against him.”
Mancino coached Tshiebwe during his two years playing at Kennedy Catholic High School in Pennsylvania. Having watched Tshiebwe up-close, Mancino is sure of his potential.
“I think once he gets going he’s going to be the best rebounder in the country,” Mancino said. “If he plays a considerable amount of minutes, he’s going to have a double-double every game. He’s going to have it and people watching the game aren’t going to realize he has it. Assuming he plays the minutes, he’s going to average a double-double, no doubt in my mind. I’ll be totally surprised if he doesn’t.”
Mancino said Tshiebwe is so consistently good, people do not even notice when he is having a good game or not, himself included.
“One time we played (Cathedral) Prep and I was ripping Oscar, telling him I was disappointed in him and his effort,” Mancino remembered. “My (assistant) coach looked at me on the bus and went, ‘uh Rick, he had 29 points, 26 rebounds, six blocked shots, what did you want him to do?’ That’s just how it is, you expect him to do everything because he does it every night.”
At 6-foot-9, Tshiebwe does not beat people with overwhelming size, but his athleticism.
“He’s about 260 (pounds) and has four percent body fat on him,” Mancino said. “He has great timing on his jumps, he goes up with two hands for rebounds. I think he makes up the couple inches he may be giving up to some players with his athleticism, his quickness and his strength.”
Pitt forward Justin Champagnie got a first-hand look at playing against Tshiebwe on Friday.
“He’s a big kid,” Champagnie said. “He’s big and tall and athletic. Trying to stand in front of him, trying to box him out is hard. He was just all over the place, flying around left and right and getting up on the board.”
Tshiebwe and the Mountaineers’ next time out will be at home against Northern Colorado Monday night. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m.