What was shaping up as a rough and frustrating night in his future home ended with a victory for Wenyen Gabriel, the University of Kentucky basketball signee who was making his only Lexington appearance as a high school player Saturday.
With John Calipari watching, Gabriel took over in the final minutes, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead Wilbraham & Monson Academy (Mass.) to an 83-73 victory over fellow five-star recruit Thon Maker and Athlete Institute (Ont.).
Maker — a 7-footer and one of the best high school players in the country — hounded Gabriel for most of the game. The future Wildcat ended up on the floor on multiple occasions and took a finger to the eye in the opening minutes, going into halftime with just two made field goals and nine total points.
The second half started out much the same, but Gabriel found his groove at the end.
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With Wilbraham & Monson trailing by six points in the final minutes, Gabriel scored his team’s next 11 points.
“I was just thinking, ‘Fight.’ I was just trying to get back in it,” Gabriel said after the game, his mouth full of blood from the physical play. “I already knew I was having a bad game, but it wasn’t about that. My team really was in it. We really wanted to win. I hate losing. So, I just liked how we fought and we came back.”
Hillcrest Academy (Ariz.) 90, Victory Prep (Texas) 74: DeAndre Ayton spent much of the pre-game warm-ups putting up shots from behind the three-point line, an odd sight for a 7-foot, 225-pound player.
He backed it up once the action began.
Ayton hit a corner three for the game’s first points and made three three-pointers less than 7 minutes into the contest. He had 17 points by halftime and finished with 18 despite sitting out the final 15 minutes after going to the bench with his team leading by 30 points.
Victory Prep’s Jarred Vanderbilt had 33 points in a losing effort, scoring 23 of those in the second half with his squad in catch-up mode. Hillcrest led 51-27 at halftime.
UK’s John Calipari and assistant coach Kenny Payne arrived before the game to watch Ayton and Vanderbilt, who are considered two of the top players in the class of 2017. Both earned scholarship offers from Kentucky over the summer.
Ayton — ranked by Scout.com and ESPN as the No. 1 player in the junior class — spent most of his time on the perimeter, rarely posting up despite his overwhelming size advantage.
He said after the game that UK, Duke and Kansas are the top three schools in his recruitment.
Vanderbilt — a 6-8 forward — showed off his impressive ball handling skills and court vision, getting to the basket at will and often getting fouled in the process. Calipari visited his school twice during the fall recruiting period, and UK is one of the top schools in his recruitment.
Sunday’s games from the Bluegrass Showcase will start at 1:30 p.m. at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
Five-star recruit Rawle Alkins and Word of God Academy (N.C.) are scheduled to play top UK target Jarred Vanderbilt and Victory Prep (Texas) in the opener.
Highly touted post players DeAndre Ayton (Hillcrest Academy, Ariz.) and Thon Maker (Athlete Institute, Ont.) will face off in the second game, which should start around 3:15 p.m.
Tickets for Sunday’s session are $15.