LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ask most Kentucky fans to name five Wildcats on the 2016-17 basketball team and they might not get to Wenyen Gabriel. That’s not because the 6-9, 213-pound freshman forward isn’t talented. He’s just on a loaded team.
Fellow freshmen De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo are all projected first-round NBA draft picks, with sophomore Isaiah Briscoe, the team’s leader, not far behind. Senior Derek Willis is Kentucky’s best 3-point shooter.
But ask Clarion coach Marcess Williams who jumps out on a team that throttled his by 57 points in Sunday night’s exhibition game at Rupp Arena and Gabriel gets plenty of love.
“My favorite,” Williams said. “I love that kid. That kid, he might be the best one of them all.”
MORE CATS COVERAGE:
- What John Calipari had to say after Kentucky’s win over Clarion.
- Three Points: What we learned from the Cats’ exhibition opener.
- ‘You’ll probably see them in the Final Four,’ Clarion coach says.
Gabriel was a surprise starter Sunday and produced a solid stat line: 9 points on 3-of-3 shooting, a pair of rebounds, a block and an assist in 17 minutes. But there’s so much more to the long-armed, always-active rookie.
“Motor,” Cats coach John Calipari said. “Every coach likes a guy with a motor, and that kid’s motor …”
Never stops. Calipari didn’t finish his sentence, but it’s safe to say that’s where he was going with it. Just in case, here’s teammate Sacha Killeya-Jones:
“He doesn’t stop,” the fellow freshman forward said. “Plays hard, rebounds everything. He’s just a really tough player in everything, even in practice. Cal always says it doesn’t matter if Wenyen misses a layup; he’s going to go get his rebound and make the next one. If he misses that, go get the rebound and make the net one. He has a crazy motor.”
Killeya-Jones said Gabriel, with his 6-foot-11 wingspan, is among the team leaders in practice deflections, always reaching into passing lanes and disrupting the offense. And he “definitely leads” for stick-back buckets.
“He’s a high-intensity player,” Willis said. “Just has a big heart and he plays really hard and you can’t really teach that. It’s huge for us. The whole team kind of feeds off that energy, I think.”