Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe will stay in the NBA Draft, he announced Wednesday on Instagram. The decision brings his prolific collegiate career to an end and leaves a major hole in the Wildcats' 2023-24 roster. Tshiebwe ranks No. 69 in the CBS Sports NBA Draft Prospect Rankings and will likely face an uphill climb making a 15-man NBA roster as an old-school big man with limited versatility.
"First, I would like to thank God for the many blessings he has shown me," Tshiebwe wrote in a statement. "I know I wouldn't be here without Him guiding me through this journey of life. Second, I would like to thank my family and closest friends for everything they have sacrificed in getting to this point in my life. I would like to thank Coach Cal and his staff for their support and belief in me during my life at UK. Lastly, I would like to thank BBN for the love, support, and loyalty you have given me and my teammates over the years. I wouldn't want to play for anyone or anywhere else.
"During this time, I have decided to remain in the 2023 NBA Draft and begin my professional career," he continued. "I hope as I continue to fight for my dream of playing in the NBA you will continue to support me. Thank you BBN for everything and I am so lucky to always call Kentucky home."
Without Tshiebwe, Kentucky will rely heavily on two talented but unproven bigs in the 2023-24 season. Five-star freshman Aaron Bradshaw is a 7-footer and a key piece of the program's No. 1 ranked recruiting class. Ugonna Onyenso is returning for his sophomore season after showing immense promise as a 6-foot-11 shot blocker in limited action last season.
Tshiebwe's legacy at Kentucky
Though he averaged 16.9 points and 14.4 rebounds during his two seasons and brought home loads of individual hardware, Tshiebwe will leave UK with a somewhat mixed legacy. In his first season after transferring in from West Virginia, the Wildcats were upset by No. 15 seed Saint Peter's in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Following offseason knee surgery, Tshiebwe struggled to regain his elite form early in the 2022-23 season. Despite ultimately logging more minutes per game, Tshiebwe's scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks totals all dipped during the 2022-23 season, and Kentucky was eliminated in the second round of the Big Dance by No. 3-seed Kansas State.
Ultimately, Tshiebwe's name will live on in the program's record books, despite the Wildcats' underwhelming team performance during his two-year UK career. Tshiebwe owns Kentucky's single-season record for double-doubles with 28 and the program's single-season record for most rebounds with 437. Additionally, he owns the Rupp Arena record for most rebounds in a game with 28.
Kentucky's 2023-24 roster
Figuring out a way to play Tshiebwe and Bradshaw together would have been a challenge for Kentucky coach John Calipari, albeit a welcome one. Neither are skilled away from the basket, which would have created spacing problems on offense and some liabilities on defense. Now, the deck is cleared for Bradshaw to play a marquee role out of the gate with the paint to himself.
Even if Calipari goes after a big man from the transfer portal, there is no one even close to Tshiebwe's caliber available. Though Bradshaw should be able to pick up some of Tshiebwe's statistical production, Wednesday's news also solidifies that the Wildcats will likely be a perimeter-oriented team next season.
Freshmen guards DJ Wagner, Robert Dillingham and Reed Sheppard are each top-50 prospects with high offensive upside, and slender small forward Justin Edwards is the top-ranked prospect in the class at No. 3 overall. Kentucky was lean on perimeter depth last season. Though this roster is going to have its own share of issues, offensive punch from the outside shouldn't be one of them.