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Wenyen Gabriel staying positive no matter what

Gabriel has had a tough past couple weeks, but he knows the wins are more important than his stats.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Alabama Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that Wenyen Gabriel has not been playing his best basketball as of late, and that was clear when John Calipari yanked him out of the Cats’ Round of 32 game against the Wichita State Shockers.

After missing several shots early on, Calipari looked at the bench and said, “He can’t play in this game,” according to Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader.

Gabriel is 1-19 from the field over the last nine games, and 0-6 from three-point range. Physically, he’s a hollow shell of what he was earlier in the year.

But mentally, he’s still there. And he’s still his teammates’ biggest fan.

Every time Kentucky scored a point while he was on the bench, Gabriel showed his excitement. During timeouts he was always there to congratulate his teammates.

Gabriel’s been up-and-down all year. He’s had his highs, like his 10 and 10 double-double against Cleveland State, or his 23-point, eight-rebound performance against the LSU Tigers. But lately he’s been on a tough downward turn. Even though he’s struggling, Cal’s directions to him have remained pretty simple.

“He’s already told me: Defend, rebound, bring energy,” Gabriel said, according to Roberts. “I’m supposed to knock down open shots. They didn’t fall in that game, but I’m still going to take open shots. And just keep playing with high energy.”

Gabriel’s old high school coach at Wilbraham & Monson Academy, Mike Mannix, told the Herald-Leader that Gabriel’s always played with that kind of energy.

“I haven’t seen him stop playing hard,” Mannix said. “I think he’s playing really hard. Sometimes shots don’t fall, and that’s the way it goes. So, I would say, ‘Just keeping getting us those extra possessions. And between De’Aaron and Malik and Bam and some other guys, we’ll put the ball in the basket.’

“Positivity is so important. Perspective, I think, is really important. ‘I might not be doing very well right now, or I might not be doing very much. But I know that the we is more important.’ He’s a kid that believes in that — that the group is greater than the individual.”

It’s pretty clear that Gabriel’s teammates love the energy he brings, no matter what his stat line looks like, and his old high school coach seems confident that with Gabriel’s energy and positivity, he’ll be just fine in time.