Gabriel proves that numbers don’t mean anything at UK


Kentucky sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel and Kentucky sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones celebrate after a three pointer during the Kentucky Cares Classic charity game against Morehead State at Rupp Arena on Monday, October 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 92 to 67. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

When you are trying to get to the NBA as quickly as possible, usually the best thing to do is score as many points as you can so scouts notice you.

However, at Kentucky, that belief has proven to be false a couple of times, as some of UK’s brightest stars in the NBA did not post eye-popping stats while they were in college.

“I feel like I don’t believe it’s about numbers here, when you play at Kentucky,” Wenyen Gabriel said. “We’re on the biggest stage, so everyone, you’re watching the games anyway, so you just go out there and play your game.”

Such a claim is true regarding one of the best players to wear a Kentucky jersey in the John Calipari era – Anthony Davis.

Davis only averaged 14.2 points per game during the 2011-2012 season, compared to his over 25 points per game now in the NBA. Davis also only took the fourth most shots on the team during that national championship winning season.

Karl-Anthony Towns, another first overall pick under Calipari, only scored 10.3 points per game his freshman season while taking the fourth most shots on the team as well. Devin Booker averaged 10 points a game in that same season, and has nearly doubled that average since entering the NBA in 2015.

While Gabriel doesn’t have the talent yet of Davis, Towns and Booker, he is the most recent player at UK to believe in the idea that stats do not matter, and instead helping you’re team win matters more, even if it means sacrificing some numbers in the box score.

“I don’t think about numbers while I’m playing. I just go out there, play with my energy,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel’s style of playing with high-energy has earned him a significant role on this year’s young team. The sophomore averages less than 10 points a game, but he still plays the amount of minutes the starters do.

Gabriel has earned those minutes by making the plays Kentucky needs to win games, whether it be securing a rebound with two hands, blocking a shot, or simply passing the ball to an open player instead of taking a contested shot.

“He’s an example of why we show film and show the players, the younger guys especially, ‘Look at what he’s done. Look at how he fought to get this offensive rebound and he was outside of the 3-point line,'” associate head coach Kenny Payne said of Gabriel.

However, being the energy-guy hasn’t always been easy for Gabriel. He attempted to fulfill a similar role last season off the bench, but did not play any meaningful minutes during the second half of last season due to his body wearing out.

Gabriel worked hard in the offseason to prevent a slump from happening again, and so far that extra strength is paying off for him. He’s able to fight for rebounds harder and not get pushed around in the post as much as he did last season.

“You don’t get tired as quickly. You feel you’re stronger on the court. You have more confidence in your defense and you go get rebounds, defend better,” Gabriel said of his extra strength.

As the Cats continue SEC play and get closer to March Madness, they will need Gabriel’s hustle plays more than ever. In a game decided by single digits, sometimes all it takes to gain an advantage is to make the plays Gabriel has made for UK all season.

“His energy, his effort and what he’s giving us on the floor, just the fight of it, is an example of what we need every player to do,” Payne said.