Last year’s loss to North Carolina was the turning point for Wenyen Gabriel. Frustrated with an inconsistent freshman season, Gabriel shouldered blame for his team’s shortcomings and used it as fuel to get better.
“I feel like a lot of that was on me, why we didn’t make [the Final Four], because I didn’t bring the production that I should have,” Gabriel told KSR. “Obviously, during the offseason, I feel like it helped me get better as a player. Just motivation for this year and to make this team come together so we could finish what we didn’t finish last year.”
The minute Gabriel got home to New Hampshire for his brief summer vacation, he went to work. Every morning, he woke up and drove an hour to the gym to lift with a trainer.
“I just made that my main goal every day: to start off the day, I had to go get that lift in and it just made everything else go easier for me,” Gabriel said. “Putting more emphasis on my body, trying to make sure this year [my body] doesn’t break down.”
By now, you’ve seen the picture of Gabriel’s three-week transformation. How did he achieve such results in such a short time?
“Obviously, since it was the offseason it wasn’t as intense, there wasn’t as much running and conditioning going on at the same time. I was eating more since I was at home. My diet, I was more focused on that.”
Gabriel said he immediately noticed the impact his time in the weight room had on his performance on the court.
“A lot,” Gabriel said on how adding muscle changed his game. “The balance, it helps everything with my game. The workouts we do are basketball specific. It helps with coordination, speed, endurance, everything with that.”
Only at Kentucky could a player who averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds his freshman year be the team’s top returner, but Gabriel is ready to use the lessons he learned last season.
“It’s great because you really know a lot of things,” Gabriel said of his sophomore status. “You know what to expect. Coming in as a freshman, you not sure what to expect, so you just have to listen and go with it. I know what to expect and how to prepare myself for it now, so I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Gabriel’s story should be a familiar one by now. Born in South Sudan, his family migrated to Egypt when he was a baby and came to America as refugees when he was three. Although his freshman season at Kentucky had its ups and downs, Gabriel sees his drive to succeed reflected in his younger brother and sister, who are moving up the ranks in AAU and high school basketball.
“It’s huge. I feel like we can really feel it coming already,” Gabriel said, proudly listing his brother and sister’s scholarship offers. “I have a little brother and sister out here trying to do the same thing as me so I’m still trying to set an example there.”
Gabriel seeks to be a role model not just for his family, but the city of Manchester, which has a large Sudanese population. His brief time at home was good for both body and mind.
“When I went home, I felt a lot of love from the city. All the places I went, I talked to a lot of little kids and visited schools. All of that positive energy came into me and me being a high energy player, I’m starting to learn how to control everything, and knowing what to expect, I can prepare myself for what I know is coming up. I have a plan coming up for this year and I’m trying to execute that.”
Back in Lexington, he put that plan into action. By all accounts, he’s been a different player in offseason workouts and early practices.
“I committed myself to having a breakout year the moment last season ended. I’m standing by my word,” he vowed.
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