PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — He’s fifth-rated prospect in the country, heavily-recruited by the nation’s top college basketball programs, and maybe only a year or two away from the NBA. But, for now, 6-foot-8-inch Oscar Tshiebwe is a member the Kennedy Catholic High School basketball team.
Kennedy Catholic is a tiny high school in Mercer County that draws players from all over the world.
One of three players from Africa, Oscar is joined by another star from Salerno, Italy, and together, they routinely trounce their public schools opponents, who may only enroll students who live within their boundaries.
“So, we’re at an inherent disadvantage. We play with community students, and we’re proud to do so, but let’s not pretend that this team was formed for anything else than basketball supremacy,” said Leonard Rich, the superintendent of the Laurel School District.
Catholic, private and charter schools are not constrained by geographic boundaries in enrolling students. While Kennedy Catholic has always had a reputation for good teams, it became virtually invincible when it started attracting players from Africa, like Sagaba Konate, who is now the shot-blocking king of the West Virginia University men’s basketball team.
It’s been years since any Pennsylvania school has been able to give the Golden Eagles a game. Last year, in the Single A state finals for small schools, Kennedy crushed Lourdes by a score of 78-36, winning its third straight state title.
Critics like Rich say the international players are here for one reason only — to play ball.
“Clearly, they came to be part of an international, dominant, high school basketball team,” he said.
For it’s part Kennedy say it doesn’t recruit, the international players come to them after discovering the school on the internet. While basketball is enticement, they credit the school’s reputation for academic rigor, also noting other international students who excel in math and chess.
“I would say that they come here for the family environment, for the tradition of excellence no matter what they’re craft, and the fact that we graduate 98 percent of our students [to] go onto college and or military,” said John M. Niemi, Kennedy’s athletic director.
No student can transfer into a school with athletic intent, and Kennedy Catholic is quick to note that each of these international students have been approved to play by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s District 10 headquartered in Erie.
But critics are just as quickly point out that the board chairman there, Peter Iacino, was the former chief administrator at Kennedy.
The same critics note that Oscar, like Sagaba Konate, is now headed to West Virginia University, raising the specter that Kennedy Catholic has become a WVU pipeline. But Coach Rick Mancino said the school was Oscar’s choice.
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, knowing I forced a kid to go somewhere. It’s their life and they can do whatever they want,” he said.