Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe staying in NBA Draft, leaving Wildcats' roster in uneasy state

Kentucky could be down to just seven scholarship players by midnight Wednesday night

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 19: Oscar Tshiebwe #34 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts during the second half against the Kansas State Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 19, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe is keeping his name in the NBA Draft, he announced Wednesday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) (Jared C. Tilton via Getty Images)

Oscar Tshiebwe’s time at Kentucky has come to an end.

Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9 center, announced Wednesday that he will forgo his final season of college eligibility and keep his name in the 2023 NBA Draft.

Tshiebwe has been a star at Kentucky for the past two seasons, including being named the consensus national player of the year in 2022. That season, Tshiebwe averaged 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds per game. He nearly matched that this past season by putting up 16.5 points and 13.7 rebounds per game for the Wildcats.

Tshiebwe, a two-time All-American, put up big numbers in what proved to be his final two games in a Kentucky uniform. He posted 8 points and a whopping 25 rebounds in Kentucky’s first-round NCAA tournament win over Providence. And in the loss to Kansas State in the second round, Tshiebwe scored 25 points and pulled down 18 boards.

Tshiebwe participated in the NBA Combine last offseason but opted to return to school. He returned to the combine this year and worked out for an array of NBA teams, including the Atlanta Hawks earlier Wednesday. After going through the pre-draft process, Tshiebwe had until midnight Wednesday to decide whether to keep his name in the draft or return to college. He chose the professional route.

Tshiebwe, a native of the Congo who played high school basketball in the Pittsburgh area, began his college career at West Virginia before transferring to Kentucky. Tshiebwe averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a freshman and then 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in just 10 games for the Mountaineers as a sophomore before deciding to transfer.

In a statement released via Twitter, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Tshiebwe “had a great opportunity to return and break more records and set the national bar for NIL again” if he returned to Kentucky, but Tshiebwe decided he was ready to “chase his dreams.”

“Oscar achieved things that no other player has in decades, and I wish we could have won more but he gave everything he had to Kentucky. He also became the first member of his family to receive a college diploma and I know how much that means to him and more importantly, his mother,” Calipari said. “Oscar had a great opportunity to return and break more records and set the national bar for NIL again, but he is ready to fully chase his dreams and he has our support. He is ready for the next level because he has a skill that is elite and will translate to that league. I’m excited to watch his journey unfold, but I know Lexington and the BBN will always be home to him.”

Kentucky awaiting decisions from Chris Livingston, Antonio Reeves

Like Tshiebwe, there are two other Kentucky players who have yet to publicly announce their decisions for next season.

Chris Livingston and Antonio Reeves both put their names into the NBA Draft pool and have until Wednesday at midnight to decide if they want to return to school or begin their pro careers.

According to multiple outlets, Livingston is expected to keep his name in the draft, but he is yet to make any public announcements. Livingston is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward who was a freshman last season. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds while averaging 22.4 minutes per game.

Reeves, a transfer from Illinois State, was Kentucky’s second leading scorer behind Tshiebwe. A 6-foot-5 guard, Reeves averaged 14.4 points per game while shooting 39.8% from 3-point range. Multiple outlets reported Wednesday evening that Reeves plans to withdraw from the draft and play college basketball next season. However, it's unclear if he will return to Kentucky.

Kentucky could be down to just 7 scholarship players

If those two also move on, Kentucky will have just seven scholarship players on the roster June 1. Four players transferred — Daimion Collins (LSU), CJ Fredrick (Cincinnati), Lance Ware (Villanova) and Sahvir Wheeler (Washington). And two others — Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin — declared for the draft without maintaining their college eligibility.

That leaves two returning scholarship players, forward Adou Thiero and center Ugonna Onyenso. Both are sophomores who saw limited action in their first seasons in Lexington.

Calipari does have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country arriving soon. That class includes four five-star recruits and one four-star recruit, and is ranked No. 1 in the country by Rivals. The class includes Camden (N.J.) High School teammates Aaron Bradshaw and DaJuan Wagner Jr., as well as Philadelphia wing Justin Edwards and Robert Dillingham, a point guard from Atlanta. Bradshaw (No. 2), Edwards (No. 3), Wagner (No. 6) and Dillingham (No. 15) are all rated in the top 15 nationally in the 2023 class. Kentucky native Reed Sheppard, a sharp-shooting guard, is the fifth member of the class. Sheppard is ranked No. 28 in the class and is considered a four-star prospect.

Elsewhere, Kentucky is reportedly involved with Creighton transfer Arthur Kaluma, who withdrew from the draft earlier Wednesday and has his name in the portal. There will be some other quality players available on the transfer market once the NBA Draft deadline officially passes, but Calipari has a long way to go to fill out the remainder of his roster after striking out on several other transfer portal targets this offseason.