by Michael A. Asher
For every individual who chooses to follow Christ wherever he may lead, the journey itself can become part of the testimony the world witnesses of the faith that has been discovered. This is the story of Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6’ 9” basketball player for the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Oscar was recently voted as the unanimous 2021-2022 National Player of the Year by Sporting News, Associated Press, USB Writer’s Association, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Additionally, he won the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award, making him the first Southeastern Conference player to win all six awards in a single season.
Oscar was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in central Africa before making his way to the United States, first enrolling at West Virginia University prior to transferring to Kentucky. Since his arrival in Lexington, Oscar has captured the hearts of the many people who enthusiastically support the famous basketball program there, the fans who are affectionately called the “Big Blue Nation.” He will easily go down as one of the most dominant players to wear the UK uniform, but more importantly, one of the most beloved players in the storied history of the program. His pleasant, humble demeanor, and his open embrace of the people supporting the program has endeared him to all. He has become a beacon of positive messages and a true example of how a Christian should present himself to the world. This humble celebrity shines in stark contrast to so many others driven by selfish motives.
Oscar Tshiebwe didn’t start playing basketball until he was fifteen years old, when he traded his soccer cleats for basketball shoes. A goalkeeper in soccer, Tshiebwe was used to protecting the goal and preventing the opponent from scoring, whether by diving or leaping at any ball that crossed his path. Since making the transition from soccer to basketball, Tshiebwe has applied that same concept on the court and he has successfully developed into one of the top players in all of college basketball.
Giving People Hope
As successful as he is on the floor, Tshiebwe wants to be known as more than just a basketball player. He is a campus leader; he shares his faith at local churches around the state; he stands for Christ every chance he gets. Now that he’s a nationally-acclaimed basketball star, he’s using his platform to spread his faith in any way that he can. Oscar states, “I used to get nervous all the time. But the more I do it, I just keep getting comfortable. Every time I go preach, I get so excited because I know people love my story, they love about where I came from, they just love hearing about it from the beginning again; that really gives me hope. So, if I get nervous, I just need the Holy Spirit to lead me.”
Heading into his senior season at Kentucky, Tshiebwe has made his mark on Lexington by rewriting the record books and making a home in the hearts of the fans. Being such a genuine, down-to-earth guy plays a big role in his relatability, and in turn, his popularity. Following a recent game at Rupp Arena, Tshiebwe spent more than two hours signing autographs for kids and fans. He didn’t mind meeting and greeting younger and older generations of Big Blue Nation. He wants to be known as a positive role model. “I want my name to be remembered forever,” Tshiebwe said. “Not just as a basketball player, [but] the way I treat people supporting Kentucky basketball. I want my name to be remembered as Oscar, who was different.”
All of his success is fueled by his faith and belief in God. Oscar shares, “At West Virginia, I was more into basketball and my personal life, but right now, at Kentucky, since I transferred, because I went through a lot, God humbled me and I just want to serve him and stay busy doing the work of God. . . . The Bible says the greatest among you should be a servant. I just want to serve others, to give people hope, so they can believe that they can achieve their dreams. I feel like I’m doing a lot of great things because I want to really submit to serving people and spending time with God. I want people to know that God is everything. I want people to know that God has changed my life, and he can change their life too.”
Giving Glory to God
Born in the DRC, Tshiebwe was the son of a pastor, but when he was just twelve years old, his father was poisoned and later died. A young Tshiebwe wondered why God would allow someone who dedicated their life to serving others to be taken so suddenly. As he wrestled with the tragedy, he leaned on his faith and the values instilled in him by his father. Oscar explains, “I said, ‘Maybe I need to give my heart to God. Maybe I need to pay attention because my daddy always taught me no matter what happens in your life, don’t let that thing affect your relationship with God because God has great plans for your life.’”
Tshiebwe moved to the U.S. before his freshman year of high school to chase his dream of playing in the NBA, and he did not speak a word of English when he arrived. After two years at Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia, he transferred to Kennedy Catholic High School in Pennsylvania before joining the Mountaineers. He now speaks six languages, including English.
Oscar says it all goes back to God: “I believe in God and trust in God and give all the glory back to God because I don’t perform to my own strength. . . . God always helps [and] I just go out there and fight. And the first thing I do with everything is to invite God into it. God always helps me.”
It’s no secret that Oscar had the talent to declare for this year’s NBA draft, as he became one of the most decorated players in college basketball history. However, he chose to return to Kentucky for his senior season for a special reason, which he recently revealed. “That was not my decision. Everything I do, I don’t do on my own. I always pray if I don’t feel so comfortable by doing something. I was praying to God—my dream is to play in the NBA—but now, the situation is tough. The one thing I heard God say was, ‘I’m not done with you at Kentucky.’ So, I said I’m going back for God.”
Oscar concludes, “I truly believe in God, and God makes most of the decisions for my life because I pray for it and I listen to what God is telling me to do. We don’t need to fight for eternal life with God. It is a free gift from Christ. We just need to believe and trust in God. We have to surrender ourselves to God. We have to obey his Word.”
Always smiling and positive, Oscar Tshiebwe’s attitude makes him not only a fan favorite, but a joy for his teammates to be around on and off the court. God has a purpose for every believer. Just imagine the positive difference every celebrity could make if they handled their fame with the same humble manner that Oscar does.
Michael A. Asher is a financial controller who has nourished a lifelong love of the Bible by sharing God’s Word through creative writing.