On April 13, one of the Bluegrass State’s biggest basketball stars was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel at the 2022 Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.
Curadham Powell of WLKY (Louisville) reported that Kentucky Wildcat Oscar Tshiebwe, the event’s keynote speaker, “gave some inspirational comments, attributing many of them to his upbringing with his mother” and then Governor Andy Beshear asked him to stay on stage for an unscripted presentation.
“One of the things I’m able to do as governor is make you a Colonel,” Governor Beshear said. “So, let me introduce you to Colonel Tshiebwe!” He then presented the 22-year-old basketball player with framed letters patent officially announcing his colonelcy.
Powell listed Tshiebwe’s basketball credits: “He averaged a nation-leading 5.3 offensive rebounds and 9.9 defensive rebounds per game—”a jaw-dropping average of 15.2 rebounds in the 2021–22 season.” His field-goal percentage was 61, he averaged 32 minutes, and started in all 34 games of Kentucky’s season. Powell noted that Tshiebwe “was named the unanimous National Player of the Year, winning every single award with that title. . . . He quickly became a fan favorite, and now Kentucky fans are waiting with bated breath to see if he will come back for his last year of college eligibility.”
Did the governor’s Kentucky Colonel commission convince the basketball star to stay rather than enter the NBA draft? A week after the Prayer Breakfast, on April 20, Tshiebwe announced he will return to the Kentucky Wildcats in his senior year, for the 2022–2023 men’s basketball season.
His choice probably didn’t surprise anyone who attended the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. “I love being here,” he said. “To be part of Kentucky is a dream come true for me.”
ESPN staff writer Jeff Borzello covered Tshiebwe’s announcement (made on SportsCenter). “With Tshiebwe back in the fold,” Borzello wrote, “along with the potential return of starters Keion Brooks Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler and the addition of five-star recruits Chris Livingston and Cason Wallace, Kentucky should open the season as a Final Four favorite.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari had this to say about Tshiebwe: “The things that he’s done haven’t been done for 50 years. Let me say this again: The things that he’s done haven’t been done for 50 years. He plays his heart out, and finds ways to impact every game. I’m proud of him, and it’s not only on the court. He’s so thankful and faith-based and he’s a joy to coach.”
Oscar Tshiebwe is well along his way on a career path of awards and accolades. Fans of Kentucky basketball can collect sport-related mementoes and souvenirs by searching for “Kentucky basketball” on auction venues like eBay. A recent search turned up these—a small sampling of the tokens, medals, and related collectibles you can find online.
In 2020 the United States Mint released three commemorative coins celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Each of the coins—a half dollar, a silver dollar, and a $5 gold piece—has a convex surface, making the basketball pop out. The program also included an innovative colorized Proof silver dollar. These coins aren’t specifically Kentucky-related, but the Basketball Hall of Fame has honored more than a half dozen Kentucky players, as well as Kentucky coaches, broadcasters, and others. C.M. Newton, Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, Adrian Smith, Louie Dampier, Pat Riley, Dan Issel, Adrian Smith, Adolph Rupp, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, and Cawood Ledford are among the Commonwealth’s honorees.
A fine collection of basketball-related coins, tokens, and medals awaits the avid Kentucky fan.
Dennis Tucker is the publisher of Whitman Publishing, a leading producer of books, storage and display supplies, and other resources for collectors and hobbyists. He was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel in March 2021 for his career in book publishing and his promotion of the Commonwealth’s status as an important subject in numismatics. His column “From the Colonel’s Desk” explores the Bluegrass State’s rich connections to American coins, tokens, medals, paper money, private currency, and related artifacts. To read more, visit the “From the Colonel’s Desk” archives.