Q&A: Wenyen Gabriel emerges as potential leader for young Cats

Jeff Drummond, Managing Editor
Cats Illustrated

He's only a sophomore, but Wenyen Gabriel suddenly finds himself as the Wildcats' most experienced player entering the 2017-18 season. 

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On being one of the oldest players on the team now...

"I think I've got more of a voice. I think that's really big for me and my confidence. Obviously, going through what I did last year with a lot of hard times, ups and downs, it kind of gives some proof to the things I'm saying to my teammates. Anytime I see someone struggling or about to go through something, I can give them some words of advice on how to get through it."

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On how his game has changed since arriving at UK...

"The biggest focus for me this summer was my body, my strength and my mobility. That's going to help every aspect of my game. Offensively, being more explosive. My endurance picking up. I feel like last year my body started to break down toward the end, and I may have lost some focus because of that.

"You can feel it as soon as you step on the court going through the drills. You feel your performance start to decrease, and it's hard to deal with. You don't really know what's going on at first, being a freshman, but with hindsight, looking at what you did wrong and right, you can compare and have a plan this year. You can know what to expect.... I know what I should be focused on. I'm not blinded this year."

On his physical transformation...

"I don't know exactly what I'm weighing right now, but I know my body fat has changed a lot. It went down a lot. That was the main thing I wanted to do, change my body. That's why you see me talking the way I am now, my confidence is up. The confidence level I had when I was in high school is back."

On how not being a one-and-done at UK can be a difficult label to handle...

"It's like two worlds, the actual world and the basketball world here. And you hear what you hear in the media. When the season ended, I knew where I was at as a player, and I looked at the thing and said, 'I'm not ready right now.' I know I have a great situation. I'm still happy that I came to Kentucky. I would not want to be anywhere else. The platform is still perfect for me. I have a plan on how I can make this work and go where I want to go."

On whether it surprises him that other players across the country don't make that same assessment...

"I mean, a lot of people are talking to them. I handled my own recruitment before coming to college, so I was speaking to all the coaches myself. I handled that. So when I see other people doing it, who don't handle their own recruitment, they don't understand the situation that they're in. But that's them. I try to focus on me. Right now, I'm trying to focus on me, how I can help my family, how I can help this team this year, how we can get this national championship. We know that when we focus on things like that, good things happen."

On Coach Cal reminding players that everyone's on their own "schedule" for development...

"I was always seen as a late bloomer. I always look at it as it's not a sprint, who's going to be the first one to make it to the league. It's a marathon, a long-running thing. I want to be a professional, and I want to be in the league for a while. I'll take my time. If it's just one more year or two more years or even three more years, it's OK... My mind's not racing like that."

On how close they were to a national title last season...

"We were so close. I still feel like if I had kept my performance up, we would have won it... As my performance started to go down, my role on the team started to go down and I couldn't impact the team as much. No one's going to say it was my fault, but personally I feel it. I'm not going to lie.

"All I can do is learn from that and try to make it so we can win it this year."

On which of his new teammates does he like competing against in summer pick-up games and practice...

"Kevin (Knox). Obviously, we get matched up against each other a lot, but I know he's good, and that's one reason I always want to go up against him. I just want to compete and get better every time I'm on the court, and you do that by going against the best guy on the court."

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