USA Basketball Selection Caps Impressive Rise For Wenyen Gabriel
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When Wenyen Gabriel (Wilbraham & Monson/Manchester, N.H.) takes the court on April 9 as member of the 2016 USA Basketball Junior National Select Team in the 19th annual Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, he will conclude a prep career that has seen his reputation grow from an unknown prospect just a year ago into one of the nation’s top-ranked members of the class of 2016.
“It is a big opportunity, where I get to play with all the top players,” the 6-foot-9 Gabriel said of the Nike Hoop Summit. “It was a big honor for me. To come from not being ranked a year ago and then to be chosen for this game, it is kind of like proof that what I’m doing is real.”
It has been an incredible journey for Gabriel – no matter if you begin his story at the age of one when he left his birthplace of South Sudan, or after his junior year at Trinity High School in New Hampshire in 2013-14, when he reclassified as a junior for the 2014-15 school year at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts.
“I still consider back there home,” Gabriel said of South Sudan. “I have a lot of family there, and I’m still close to them. Because I don’t have a lot of those memories from me being young, I’m really looking forward to going back one day. But as for now, this is my home, and it’s what I’ve known.”
Growing up in an athletic family that includes seven children, Gabriel said it was natural for him to play basketball. His older brother, Mabor, is a sophomore on the men’s basketball team this year at Brown Mackie Junior College in Kansas, and his older sister, Karima, played college basketball at DePaul (2011-12) and Boston College (2014-15).
“It is kind of just like following in their footsteps,” Gabriel said. “Going to their games, it kind of makes you want to be like that. I’ve carried that on. When I started playing well, my little sister wanted to follow now, too. It was kind of like a chain that wants to continue.
“There was never any pressure. I don’t know how my younger siblings feel, but speaking for myself, I didn’t feel any pressure growing up.”
Starting his sophomore season at Trinity High School playing with the junior varsity team, Gabriel later that season joined Mabor on the varsity squad, and together they helped Trinity to a New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Division I championship. As a junior in 2013-14 at Trinity, Gabriel suffered a broken foot at the start of the school year but went on to help Trinity to the DI final four.
Following that season, Gabriel decided to change his circumstances and transferred to Wilbraham & Monson and reclassified as a junior for the 2014-15 season.
“No, it wasn’t,” Gabriel said when asked if that was hard choice to make. “When I was a junior at a public school, Trinity in Manchester, I didn’t have any options for college or anything. It was like the clock was ticking. So then, getting the opportunity to get a year back and try to pick up my recruitment was exciting for me. So, it wasn’t a tough decision for me at all.”
It wasn’t until this past summer in 2015, however, when Gabriel began to see the payoff. Playing with Mass Rivals, he caught everyone’s attention.
“I knew it was possible, but it wasn’t my goal,” Gabriel said of going from unranked to highly sought after. “Last summer I was just trying to do my best and see where I could get. I wasn’t aiming for any specific school or any ranking or anything like that. A few schools were talking to me, and I wanted to get those offers. And when I did, I just wanted to keep playing well and see what I could get by the end of the summer, and that’s kind of what happened.
“It was kind of surreal. It was like, ‘man, this really just happened.’ I had to sit back a little bit and let it sink in, and then I started cutting down my list and figuring out where I wanted to go to school.”
With offers rolling in from programs such as Duke, Maryland and Connecticut, it was Kentucky that Gabriel eventually picked.
In fact, Gabriel will take the court in the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit alongside his future Kentucky teammates Edrice Adebayo (High Point Christian H.S./High Point, N.C.) and De’Aaron Fox (Cypress Lakes H.S./Katy, Texas).
“I definitely am looking forward to playing with all the other Kentucky commits that are on the team. They will be my future teammates, so that will be really fun.”
Gabriel not only will be taking part in his first USA Basketball event, he also will be playing using international basketball rules for the first time.
“I’m kind of going in blind. I’m just going to bring what I can do and just try my best. I don’t really know what to expect.”
One thing he does know, however, is what his strengths are.
“Definitely my energy, the way I can defend,” he explained. “On offense, I can run the floor. I can rebound and block shots on defense. The offense, I’m just going to play within the system and see what comes to me there. I can stretch the floor offensively.
“My mindset is already set – it is going to be a learning experience for me. I want to learn as much as I can from the players, the coaches and the staff that is there, and I’m sure it is going to be a lot of high-level people. This is a good place for me to get better before my next step.”
He also has a unique perspective on what it means don a USA Basketball jersey.
“I was a citizen in 2007 when my parents became citizens, but I just got my paperwork last summer. I finally have my passport, and those type of things.
“I think it is just an honor to represent a country like the United States that has done so much for me. This country has just given me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I was still at home. It’s kind of a way to give back a little bit. It’s great to represent a country like this.”
Don’t miss Gabriel and his USA teammates in the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit and get your tickets now: http://bit.ly/nikehoopsummit