The news leapt off the cell phone screen this past Sunday.
Oscar Tshiebwe, said the press release, will be returning to WVU’s basketball team for his sophomore season.
You could almost hear Mountaineer fans first breathing a sigh of relief and then celebrating.
“I would like to thank the WVU basketball coaching staff, my family and the NBA Advisory Committee for the guidance and the information provided to me during the evaluation period,” Tshiebwe said via the release. “As I always mentioned, I would be at WVU for my sophomore season, but I wanted to gain knowledge from the NBA on the process and my standing with the NBA. I was very pleased to receive my evaluation, which was actually higher than my expectations but not at the level that meets my goal. I am confident with another year at WVU our goals as a team and as an individual will be achieved.”
WVU coach Bob Huggins said in the press release Tshiebwe went through the process in a “systematic and professional manner.”
Then today, Tuesday, he said this in a phone interview:
“We’re obviously excited Oscar is coming back for the sake of the program and, really, for Oscar’s sake,” said Huggins. “Another year in college, another year of playing 35-40 games, will only make him better.”
Was his return expected? Yes. Was it assured? Not after the Sagaba Konate saga. But now that Tshiebwe is back in the fold, West Virginia’s outlook is quite bright indeed – with a caveat.
I’ll get to the caveat shortly, but let’s first look at this Mountaineer roster. Huggins told me today he has “absolutely no idea” how college athletics will move forward, but that “we’ve been doing some Zoom calls” with the players to keep them engaged.
He added those players are all healthy. And, as for a possible addition, Huggins said, “I don’t know. It would have to be the right guy. We have really good chemistry right now.”
Even without a transfer, though, WVU has a roster that sparkles.
First, of course, there’s Oscar. He’s earned first name recognition after starting all 31 games as a freshman and leading the team, averaging 11.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team and was a unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 Freshman Team.
Yet look around Tshiebwe, a former Rival 5-star recruit and McDonald’s All-America selection. What you’ll find is a vast wealth of talent.
Derek Culver – the 6-10 Youngstown, Ohio, product was second on the WVU team last season in scoring (10.4) and rebounding (8.6). In 2018-19, he was All-Big 12 Second Team and also a unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 Freshman Team. He was a 4-star recruit and a Top 100 player, according to Rivals.
Emmitt Matthews – The junior from Tacoma, Wash., averaged 6.3 points last season after being a 4-star recruit, according to Rivals. Heading in, he was ranked the No. 125 player nationally, according to the service.
Jalen Bridges – The 6-7 Fairmont native joined the WVU team, redshirted and earned rave reviews from Huggins. He was considered a 4-star recruit by both Rivals and 247.
Isaiah Cottrell – Yep, another 4-star recruit, according to 247 and Rivals. Cottrell is a 6-10 forward from Las Vegas that attended Huntington Prep. He’ll immediately help WVU’s stacked front line.
Jordan McCabe – The point guard didn’t have the greatest season in 2019-20 (3.1 average), but he was still a 4-star land, according to 247, and Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin.
Oh, and that list doesn’t even include…
Miles McBride – The sophomore electrified Mountaineer fans at times, averaging 9.5 points. His mature play and deft touch showed he deserved more than a 3-star ranking coming out of Cincinnati.
Gabe Osabuohien – The Arkansas transfer wasn’t rated yet proved to be a Dennis Rodman-like fan favorite last year, averaging 4.1 rebounds with 34 steals.
Sean McNeil – WVU fans are still waiting for the 3-point sharp-shooter to explode. He converted 33 percent of his treys in 2019-20 while getting his feet wet at the Power 5 level. At a junior college in Dayton, though, McNeil led the circuit in scoring nationally at 29.7 points.
Taz Sherman – The 6-4 senior guard, who came from a junior college in Texas, was also not rated by services. But Mountaineer fans will agree Sherman is a gem after he scored 20 points – including five 3-point field goals – at Baylor, 16 points at TCU and 11 at Texas Tech.
Taj Thweatt – A 3-star recruit, the 6-7 Thweatt came on strong at the end of his season for Wildwood Catholic High in New Jersey.
Kedrian Johnson – A 3-star junior college recruit, Johnson is a 6-3 guard from Dallas who led the country in steals (3.7) and was fifth nationally in scoring at 25.6 points per game.
OK, so that caveat? Well, once again, WVU’s guard play will determine whether the Mountaineers are Final Four contenders or not.
In stats that point toward guards, West Virginia was No. 235 in assists (12.4 per game), No. 338 in 3-point field goal percentage (28.6 percent), No. 339 in 3-point field goals a game (5), No. 97 in turnover margin (1.2) and No. 286 in assists to turnover ratio (.86).
That said, WVU now has a senior guard in Sherman, two juniors in McCabe and McNeil and a sophomore in McBride. In addition, 6-4 Johnson hits Morgantown after dishing 162 assists (to 102 turnovers, a 1.6 ratio) for the Leopards of Temple College in Dallas.
So we’ll see. The Mountaineers will need improved guard play if and when they play next.
Yet the roster is certainly reason for excitement for WVU fans.
“We’re excited,” Huggins said Tuesday. “We’ve got to do a little better job of taking care of the ball, but at the end of last season we were guarding well. Offensively, our ball movement was much better — and we started making shots again.”
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.