Gabriel is ready to be the player he envisions this season


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

Last year was not the year Wenyen Gabriel wanted to have, as the then-freshman barely contributed to the Cats down the stretch of the season.

However, none of that matters to Gabriel anymore, and he’s using his experiences last year to make his sophomore campaign one to remember.

“I know more now, I’ve got that whole year under my belt behind me, I had a lot of – during practices a lot of hiccups, a lot of mistakes and Cal made sure he corrected every one of them,” Gabriel said.

After a year of getting his mistakes fixed by John Calipari, Gabriel projects to be one of the top players on UK’s roster this year. On top of listening to his coach’s advice, Gabriel has also done a lot of work to make sure he doesn’t fade out at the end of the season like last year.

In the offseason, the sophomore forward said he worked a lot on his body, to make sure he has the strength to still be playing strong come spring time.

“Everyday, I drove an hour away max to go get my workout in,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel has certainly worked hard to improve his game this offseason, but to Gabriel, the difference in this offseason is that he’s worked smarter instead of harder.

“I’ve always been working pretty hard, I think this might be where I worked the smartest,” Gabriel said. “See I have a different game plan, doing what I need to do to get better.”

All that work is starting to pay off for Gabriel, who is having a strong start to this season. His game has caught the eye of his teammates and coaches.

“Wenyen is playing way better, thank God,” Calipari said. “He’s not the same guy he was a year ago.”

A source of motivation Gabriel got to make these improvements was watching some of his friends go on to the NBA without him.

Before last season, many thought Gabriel would be one of Calipari’s one-and-done players, but his inconsistent play led him to fall off of the NBA draft boards. Gabriel used that time to reflect on his basketball career and help him move past one of his toughest seasons of his career.

“That whole time when people are getting ready for the NBA, that whole process, seeing a lot of people in my senior class, people that I was ranked higher than getting drafted, I just had to understand to myself it’s not a race, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel now knows that his best route to the NBA is to put all that hard work on the court, and show NBA scouts he can be a consistent player for the Cats. Gabriel thinks that extra strength work in the offseason will help him be the player he envisions himself being.

If all of it comes together, Gabriel and many of his teammates think the sophomore is due for a great season.

“He’s going out to kill this season, and everyone knows it,” Tai Wynyard said.