Wenyen Gabriel has always dreamed big, and now the Trinity product is with the Sacramento Kings.
Wenyen Gabriel’s journey to the NBA began 6,100 miles away in Khartoum.
To get from Manchester to the Sudanese capital takes a four-flight trip spread over two days with stops in Washington D.C., Vienna and Addis Ababa.
Despite the arduous journey of his youth through the wars of Sudan and refugee camps in Egypt, Gabriel and his family arrived in the Queen City, where he blossomed into a basketball star.
This season Gabriel received the ultimate prize in basketball: an NBA contract. Now a member of the Sacramento Kings, Gabriel returned to New England last Monday when the Kings came to Boston to play the Celtics.
“I wake up in the morning and I just remember the big picture, remember why I play the game,” Gabriel said. “Remember where I’m from, what country I’m from. Just have a lot of things I want to do back at home. Those things drive me. I have a lot of motivations. I have a lot of reasons to play the game.”
Gabriel initially shined at Manchester’s Trinity High, winning a state title with the Pioneers as a sophomore. And while he raised the champions’ plaque in Durham, he was always working to improve.
Dave Keefe, former head coach at Manchester Central, was an assistant at Trinity and coached Gabriel. Keefe was quick to praise Gabriel and his tenacity even at a young age.
“Back when I had him as a junior he didn’t have one scholarship to a Division II school,” Keefe said. “So to make it where he’s made it is (due to) his perseverance, his dedication to the craft, and the hard work ethic instilled in him by his wonderful family.”
After playing in prep school at Wilbraham & Monson Academy, the offers began pouring in. Gabriel was a top-15 recruit in 2016 and caught the eyes of every major program in the country.
Eventually, Gabriel signed to play at the University of Kentucky. In his two years in Lexington, the Wildcats made an Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen.
“Starting at Trinity I played with my older brother and won a championship my sophomore year,” Gabriel said. “That was a big accomplishment for me, but I’ve always had aspirations to play at the next level. I embraced every step and used it as a stepping stone. I learned a lot of discipline at Trinity that got me ready for prep school and prep school got me ready to play at Kentucky.”
At Kentucky, Gabriel averaged seven points a game as a sophomore and led the team in blocks with 40. He took his chances in the NBA draft and went undrafted and signed on with Sacramento’s minor league affiliate, the Stockton Kings.
“After two years he was in a position to be with a team, which is amazing,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He came in and took advantage of this culture. He took advantage of this program.”
And all Gabriel needed was a shot. After a year in Stockton, Gabriel continued to work and improve and was rewarded with a full-time NBA contract before this season began.
Just one of 450 NBA players, Gabriel is one of two current Granite Staters in the NBA along with Duncan Robinson of the Miami Heat.
“He’s been great,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “He was in Sacramento all summer working hard every day. He earned that spot. It was nice to be able to reward him with the contract. Works hard. Good guy. Good teammate.”
While Gabriel hasn’t seen the court much this season, he’s only played in seven contests this year, he’s in the league and making the most of the opportunity. He’s averaging two points and a rebound a game. His best game was an eight-point, three-rebound performance at Utah back on Oct. 26.
Gabriel will be the first to tell you that this is the beginning and there are many more mountains to climb.
“I still got more dreams to accomplish,” Gabriel said. “I don’t feel like it’s done. I still have a lot of big dreams that I’m working towards. You celebrate the moment right now and you get back to work.”