One of the less-heralded members of the Kentucky Wildcats’ 2016 class was Wenyen Gabriel. That’s by no fault of Gabriel, one of the best 2016 had to offer.
Gabriel would have been the top guy in most schools’ recruiting class, but Gabriel chose to be part of a monster UK class that hopes to win it all this coming season. Even though the national media has been relatively quiet about Gabriel, his teammates know how good he really is.
The Courier-Journal asked members of basketball team about which player had been the biggest surprise over the summer.
Most of them picked Gabriel, who was praised for his versatility and his willingness to do whatever he needs to help the team win.
“Just how versatile he is,” De’Aaron Fox said.
“He’s 6-foot-10 and can shoot and move like a guard,” Malik Monk said. “That’s crazy.”
“I think people will really like watching him,” Derek Willis said.
“He plays hard,” Isaiah Briscoe said.
For Gabriel’s part, he said he wants to win a championship this upcoming season.
“I want to leave with another one of those banners up there,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel has previously said he wants to be an elite defender, something that could earn him a big role on this team with his versatility allowing him to defend guards and forwards.
It is unknown at this point how exactly Gabriel will be used in the Wildcats’ offense, but with an ability to play in the paint as well as on the perimeter, John Calipari will have plenty of options to use the versatile freshman.
"I feel I can play any position," he told the Courier-Journal. "Maybe my size is a little disadvantage with my weight and all that, but I think I don’t have that many disadvantages."
Gabriel’s high school coach, Mike Mannix, has known for a long time how versatile Gabriel is.
“I think most people just think of him as a big,” Mannix said. They know he can make shots and rebound but he has ability to probably guard four different positions on the floor. In transition with us he would guard five positions. His defensive versatility can be very surprising.”
Gabriel also impressed in the recent NBA combine that UK held, as DraftExpress writes:
Wenyen Gabriel measured 6'9 in shoes with a 6'11 wingspan, 2 inches shorter than what he registered at the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit. Despite his somewhat underwhelming size for a power forward, he has packed on 13 pounds of muscle and posted impressive athletic testing numbers.
Former Wildcat Karl Anthony-Towns recently hosted a Twitter Q&A session, and he highlighted Gabriel as a breakout player for this season.
CBS Sports tabbed Gabriel as the 12th-most talented freshman heading into the 2016-17 college hoops season, ahead of teammate Malik Monk (15).
The skinny: Gabriel was the biggest riser of any prospect on this list. He was virtually unknown, and then, in the span of four months in 2015, absolutely blasted up the rankings. He wound up picking Kentucky and, in doing so, gave Calipari one of the three best recruiting classes he's ever had.
His game is still evolving, but you watch him play and just see example after example of a guy who has good instincts -- fun instincts -- for how to make impact plays. He could struggle to start the season, sure, but I think he'll be one of the 30 best players in the sport by the time we get to the NCAA Tournament.
I think he's a guy who could unexpectedly have a 20-rebound, 20-point game on one night, then go for eight points and four boards the next.
Gabriel should be able to provide value in a lot of different areas for the Wildcats this upcoming season and should be able to cause matchup problems for opposing coaches.