UK Men's Basketball

UK signee Wenyen Gabriel brings his five-star game to Lexington on Saturday

Team Doo Be Doo's Wenyen Gabriel #22 in action against Team EZ Pass in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.
Team Doo Be Doo's Wenyen Gabriel #22 in action against Team EZ Pass in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 22, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. AP

There was one thing on Wenyen Gabriel’s mind following his high school basketball game last Saturday.

The University of Kentucky signee played that game in front of his future coach, John Calipari, but that’s not what he was thinking about.

He filled the stat sheet again — 18 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocked shots — but he didn’t care about that either.

Gabriel and his Wilbraham & Monson Academy (Mass.) squad lost, and that’s all that mattered.

WMA Coach Mike Mannix said his star player had only this to say to him after the game: “I hate losing.”

Gabriel — a 6-foot-10 small forward — bounced back Wednesday night with 27 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocked shots in just 24 minutes on the court, leading Wilbraham & Monson to an 86-68 victory over Hoosac School (N.Y.).

His next game will be in Lexington on Saturday night.

Gabriel’s WMA squad will face fellow five-star recruit Thon Maker and Athlete Institute (Ontario) in the Bluegrass Showcase at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. That game is scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m., following a contest at 6:30 p.m., pitting UK recruiting targets Jarred Vanderbilt and DeAndre Ayton against each other.

Tickets are available at NextMaxInc.Thundertix.com or at the school.

I have never, at any level, seen a motor like this. It doesn’t shut off. It’s just fantastic.

Wilbraham & Monson Coach Mike Mannix

Gabriel emerged over the summer as the “it” recruit in the class of 2016. He entered the spring as an unranked prospect nationally and eventually ascended to the No. 10 overall spot in the Scout.com rankings.

He’s taken another step this fall.

Scout.com’s Evan Daniels was in attendance for WMA’s exhibition opener against a highly touted Spanish academy last month and told the Herald-Leader afterward that Gabriel probably deserves to be ranked even higher.

UK assistant coach Tony Barbee was there, too, and he sent Mannix a text message the next morning.

“That kid just plays so darn hard,” read Barbee’s message.

Mannix, a former staff member for the Indiana Pacers and multiple Division I programs, says he has never encountered a player quite like Gabriel.

“I have never, at any level, seen a motor like this. It doesn’t shut off. It’s just fantastic,” Mannix told the Herald-Leader. “There’s no ulterior motive. He’s playing for the team. Playing as hard as he can to win the game. He loves to compete, loves to win.”

Gabriel was seen by most as a post prospect before Calipari started recruiting him as a perimeter player over the summer. Through three games this season, Mannix estimated that Gabriel has played about 70 percent of the time on the perimeter.

His numbers speak for themselves, but they could be even better.

Opponents in all three games have played zone defenses almost exclusively against WMA, and that’s limited Gabriel’s opportunities in the mid-range, something that Calipari and Mannix have been working on over the past few weeks.

“Any time he comes to the middle of the floor, he’s getting checked. He’s getting bodied. He’s getting fouled,” Mannix said. “He just has no space to operate.”

Saturday’s matchup with the talented Athlete Institute squad might yield more man-to-man opportunities for Gabriel, who is eager to show off his rapidly improving skill set to his future hometown fans.

A few hours before his Lexington debut, Gabriel and his high school teammates will be in Rupp Arena for the first half of the UK-Arizona State game.

“I think that’s when he’ll really start to feel the full effect of how special it is to get to play a game in your college town before you actually get there,” Mannix said. “He’s really excited about it.”

Ben Roberts: 859-231-3216, @NextCats

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