LEXINGTON, KY – Oscar Tibwe wore two noteworthy things Tuesday at Kentucky’s basketball media day: a sleeve over his right knee and the broad smile of a man who doesn’t seem too concerned about his recent injury. In fact, the reigning National Player of the Year said he “absolutely” expects to be ready to play in the Wildcats’ season opener Nov. 7 against Howard.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll miss the games,” Tibwe said. “Probably exhibition games because it’s not really necessary. But I don’t think I’ll miss any (regular season) games.”

Tsibwe is coming off one of the great rebounding seasons in modern college basketball history and won every major award while averaging 17.4 points and 15.1 rebounds. He was a unanimous first-team preseason All-American Athleticrecent vote. He’s often referred to as “the machine,” but on Oct. 13, he needed a repair: minor surgery on that knee after experiencing pain and swelling in it. He participated in Kentucky’s pro day on Oct. 9 — and performed well — after the staff shut him down.

“The coaches say, ‘We’ve got to check it out.’ After the inspection, they say: “It must be done.” It was God’s plan,” Tibwe said on Tuesday.

His return to the field will be decided by the team coach.

“I’m hoping they’ll tell me I’m ready to go,” Tibwe said. “I’m going to tell them how I feel every day and keep moving. The feeling is improving. We continue rehabilitation. The feeling is wonderful. I’m not worried about that. God has already told me, “I will heal you.” So now we’re just going to follow the process and make sure I’m in good shape, 100 percent healthy and ready for the rest of the season.”

Coach John Calipari, who last week said that Tshibwe was ‘not human’ and has already been pushing to return to the team, reiterated Tuesday that the timeline is still unclear and he prefers to be cautious.


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“He moves pretty well. He’s moving,” Calipari said. “You have to stay off your feet. Children will stand and sign autographs, take pictures. Well, he has to stay off his feet. When he works out, he may swell up a bit, but it will go away. For now, that’s how it is. But he tells me: “I feel very good. My leg feels good. I don’t have the pain that was there.” He says it was little (before) but now it is nothing. My thing is, we’re not going to hold him back, but you’re not going to push him forward.”

On Tuesday, Tibwe admitted that the pain was severe and the tumor was strong enough that he could not bend his knee. And yet, he said, you should have seen him “drag up” at pro day, right before the shutdown and procedure. He and Calipari agree his game has changed, and he can’t wait to show it off to a wider audience — all in pursuit of Kentucky’s ninth national championship, his stated mission for this season.

“I am a warrior,” he said. “Until my wheel falls off, I won’t stop. I was good at pro day. The next day, I say to the coach, “Let me go.” The coach said, “No, Oscar, we have to take care of that first. So I got it taken care of.”

Calipari said in some ways the Wildcats’ other big men benefited from practicing without Tshibwe cleaning the glass and finishing everything around the rim.

“You add Oscar, it makes it a little bit different,” the coach said. “But what’s going to happen is where they expect him to rebound, now they have to go after balls and that’s good. But we’re better off with him.”

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(Photo: Jordan Prater/USA Today)