West Virginia sophomore forward Oscar Tshiebwe has chosen to step away from the Mountaineer basketball program, citing personal reasons according to a release from the university on Friday morning.
Tshiebwe was averaging 8.5 points and 7.8 rebounds through 10 games this season, with his numbers down across the board from a freshman campaign that saw him go for 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest.
A 6-foot-10 native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a McDonald’s All-American at Kennedy Catholic High School in Pennsylvania, Tshiebwe was named a preseason first-team All-Big 12 Conference selection this year.
During a press conference via Zoom on Friday, WVU coach Bob Huggins said that Tshiebwe’s departure is permanent, at least for this season if not beyond.
“No, absolutely not. No return,” Huggins said.
Tshiebwe’s early-season struggles have been well documented with Huggins alluding to possible issues over the summer and in preparation for the season.
On Friday, Huggins said that the news of Tshiebwe’s departure wasn’t a shock and that though his team’s strategy and identity will certainly change, the expectations won’t.
“Did it catch me by surprise? No. What do we do going forward? We’re going to win more games,” Huggins said. “I think this gives us an opportunity to be able to spread the floor a little bit more.”
When asked to expand on why the move wasn’t surprising, Huggins declined to go further.
“In all due respect I don’t really want to talk about Oscar,” Huggins said. “I want to talk about our team. I want to talk about the guys that are here that have worked their tails off all summer long, continued to work when we didn’t know whether we were going to play or not. Those guys deserve all the credit in the world and I’m sure they’re champing at the bit to get an opportunity to show what they can do.”
To that front, Huggins didn’t officially tab a new starter and instead pointed to positional flexibility based on the lineups of opponents. The Mountaineers (8-2) have lost two power forwards this week after freshman Isaiah Cottrell injured his left Achilles tendon in a 73-51 win over Northeastern on Tuesday.
That leaves junior Derek Culver as the team’s only experienced big man. Culver is second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game and leads the Mountaineers in rebounding at 9.9 per contest.
Otherwise, freshman Seny Ndiaye remains as WVU’s lone big outside of Culver. Though Ndiaye has appeared in only three games, Huggins said that he could be one of several players seeing an uptick in minutes and responsibility moving forward.
“He was as good [Thursday in practice] as he’s been all year,” Huggins said. “The plan was never to play him, it was to be in practice, go against Derek in practice every day and get better, which he has done. But I wouldn’t have a problem putting him in the game. [Thursday] was the best that he’s been since he’s been here.”
Huggins also identified redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges as another expected benefactor of expanded minutes and added that forwards Emmitt Matthews and Gabe Osabuohien likely wouldn’t have their roles changed significantly.
How the Mountaineers adapt will be seen as soon as Saturday when WVU hits the road for a 4 p.m. game at Oklahoma. While losing a player of Tshiebwe’s caliber would obviously seem to be a detriment, Huggins put a positive spin on things.
“Anytime you’re a man down it opens up opportunities, it’s all what they make of it — that’s up to them,” Huggins said. “We have guys that have worked their butts off and have worked their butts off all summer to get an opportunity. They get an opportunity, I am more than confident that they will do a great job for us so, why would we screw that up?”
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