Kentucky Basketball Player Driven by Faith
University of Kentucky fans worship the game of basketball like few others schools in the South. It's a faith that has served Big Blue Nation very well over the past century, as their beloved Wildcats have won eight NCAA Championships and been to 17 Final Fours, including four out of five years from 2011-15.
They won't be cutting down the nets on a ninth title this year though, as Kentucky suffered a shocking first-round defeat to St. Peter's University. It's a devastating end to the season for a team that won 26 games and had high hopes of another deep postseason run.
The loss to St. Peter's was possibly the last game in a Kentucky uniform for junior Oscar Tshiebwe. The 22-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who transferred to Kentucky from West Virginia after his sophomore season, is exactly the type of player the NBA covets. Big, strong, able to score and rebound at will, and well-grounded.
His success is all the more remarkable when you realize he didn't even pick up a basketball until he was 15 years old. He was a soccer goalie growing up in the Congo, but turned his attention to hoops as he kept growing into his 6-foot-9 inch frame.
Even after just one season in Lexington, Tshiebwe's impact has been evident, but piling up stats en route to a big NBA paycheck isn't what motivates him.
"I want my name to be remembered forever," he recently told The Times-Tribune. "I want my name to be remembered as Oscar who was different, not just a basketball player.
Driving him on and off the court are not just tremendous basketball skills, but a strong faith and a firm belief in God. A faith he's more than happy to talk about and share with others.
"I give all the glory back to God because I don't perform to my own strength. God always helps me, and I just go out there and fight. The first thing I do with everything is to invite God into it."
Oscar's father Mbuyi, who passed away in 2012, was the head pastor at a New Apostolic church in Kana, Congo, and he was the one who laid the foundation for Oscar's faith to grow.
"He inspired me to stand up in front of people and preach about God."
Oscar took his father's advice to heart and earlier this year spoke to about 200 parishioners at Lexington's Broadway Baptist Church. The basketball star immediately commanded respect with his size and his sermon.
Pastor Daniel Ausbun was impressed with Tshiebwe's message and thinks his ultimate calling may not professional basketball.
"I thought he did a fantastic job," Ausbun told Kentucky Today. "He told me he was called to preach and wants to fulfill his father's footsteps."
"He's real passionate... and we spoke afterwards, he didn't even talk about basketball," Ausbun said. Adding, "he wanted feedback on his sermon."
Sherry Lyons, the children's ministry director, is also a believer in Tshiebwe.
"You can tell it's from the heart... He barely even touched on basketball. He talked about his family, his dad was a pastor, and that's what he feels he's supposed to do. He can influence so many people. God can use him. I hope he stays genuine," Lyons told Kentucky Today.
The lure of NBA riches may defer that calling for at least a few years, but Ausbun is confident Tshiebwe won't be sidetracked by fame and fortune.
"Never once when I was talking to him did he talk about the issue of the NBA money or anything material. It's all about the Lord. He has a passion for God."
Like Father, like Son.