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Refocused Wenyen Gabriel is a different player for Kentucky Basketball this season

Wenyen Gabriel's improvement is clear as day to his teammates and coaches.

Chris Humphrey

The Kentucky sophomore took a trip home.

To take the next step as a key part of this year's team, Wenyen Gabriel went back to his roots in Manchester, New Hampshire during the offseason.

He was motivated to get better on both ends of the floor. He spent most of last year in a reserve, bench role for Kentucky.

"It was a change of focus," Gabriel said. "With everything last year, I took a step back and looked at myself, knowing what was wrong... I watched film and knowing more now (as a player) has me feeling more confident I had ups and downs last season and felt like I never really put it together. My confidence lies within myself and the things that I have worked on."

The trip back to the Northeast helped bring his morale up a notch.

"That's where I was at basically the whole offseason," Gabriel said. "That's where I did a lot of training and focused on my body with performance training. I did a lot of work. I just got back to my roots. It brought my confidence back."

Hamidou Diallo has seen Gabriel's confidence and poise surge during offseason workouts and preseason practices.

"Wenyen is a different player because he's just more confident," Diallo said. "He's more confident; he's more of a leader and understands the game more."

While the sophomore went back to his roots, his focus during that time was working his maneuverability on the court.

The work will benefit the team because John Calipari's scheme on offense is predicated on an up-tempo style. "I worked hard on my mobility," Gabriel said. "I know I had really tight muscles so I knew I needed to work on my mobility. It's going to help here at Kentucky (because) of fast we play on offense."

Gabriel's improvement is clear as day to the Kentucky head coach.

"Wenyen (Gabriel) isn't the same player. I would say Wenyen is one of our top-three guys," Calipari said. "His energy is unbelievable. He's making baskets. He's the relentless guy that I recruited... And he's stronger. He's probably ahead because he's got better habits than some of the guys because he's been here."

On the flip side, the ability to move quickly on defense means he can stay on the floor longer.

"Playing defense, if you're able to play defense longer, then you're going to be on the court longer," Gabriel said. "Just more opportunity to do what you have to do. I just want to help my team win."

Kentucky lost the likes of De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo to the NBA Draft, but Calipari also lost leadership in two seniors — Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis.

With a whole new roster and very young group, Gabriel is one of few players on Kentucky with experience. That experience is going to be crucial in every game.

But Gabriel had to deal with the same scenario in 2016.

"It is a whole new team coming in," Gabriel said. "Last year was a whole new team coming in, too. These guys that are here are really talented. We have really bought into what Cal is preaching... It's different having a different team, being around a whole new group. But it was same thing as last year... Knowing what to expect is a big advantage."

What role does Gabriel want to play this season? It doesn't matter to him. He's focused on helping the team out in any way that's possible.

"As of right now, it looks like my game has expanded," he said. "We're going to see what the team needs and what they need from me. That's what I'm going to bring to the table. At the end of the day, our goal is to win a championship. So whatever the role I need to play for this team to win that championship is what I'm going to do."

This story originally appeared in the Glasgow Daily Times. Read the story here.