Kentucky added the first five-star recruit of its 2016 class with a Thursday commitment from forward Wenyen Gabriel.
The grass is green, the sky is Kentucky blue, and John Calipari landed another five-star recruit. Wenyen Gabriel, who took an official visit to the school over the weekend, came away impressed enough to verbally commit to the Wildcats on Thursday. Given UK's one-and-done tradition, the annual turnover of big men in Lexington has become standard, and in landing a player who was also heavily considering Duke, Gabriel's commitment will have wide-ranging effects on the 2016 season.
A native of Sudan, Gabriel grew up in New Hampshire and attends Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts. At 6'9", he presents the familiar combination of length and athleticism we've grown accustomed to seeing in the Kentucky frontcourt. A late-blooming prospect who did not have a Division I offer as of June 2014, Gabriel rode an impressive summer to his elite ranking. He reaped the fruits of a growth spurt, combining perimeter skills with a power forward-appropriate frame, and his stock took off accordingly.
Gabriel announced his decision live on ESPN, where he thanked his coaches, family, and the schools that recruited him. Maryland, Connecticut and Providence rounded out his final list. “Going from the lowest level, to the mid-level, to the highest level, there’s so many people I’ve been able to talk to and learn from through this process. I learned a lot about the schools, and more about myself, and where I wanted to go.” Gabriel said he had a long breakfast with Calipari the day of the coach’s Hall of Fame induction in September that helped sell him.
From a scout’'s perspective, Gabriel is certainly intriguing with a reported 7'1" wingspan and a hard-working approach that helps him dominate on the glass. Per DraftExpress, he averaged 7.1 offensive rebounds and 6.8 on the defensive per-40 minutes in 37 games on the adidas Summer Circuit. He's a strong shot-blocking presence that can guard both inside and out, but as is the case with many a high school player, he’ll need to bulk up to guard stronger bigs on the block.
Gabriel’s perimeter abilities help his case, though at present he lacks the skill level to operate at the three full-time. Still, his versatility was impressive at UnderArmour’s Elite 24 week in August, with good feet and mobility plus a jump shot that should be able to add some range. Kentucky had success keeping Karl-Anthony Towns, who also had perimeter inclinations as a prep star, playing in a defined low-post position. Given Calipari's history, Gabriel should have every opportunity to excel in a comfortable situation, but he may be a two-or-three year type and could benefit from sticking around. For a loose comparison, think Patrick Patterson.
He joins four-star power forward Sacha Killeya-Jones and New Zealand post Tai Wynyard (who could still enroll after this year’s fall semester) as commitments to UK's ‘16 class. Looking ahead at their depth chart, freshman center Skal Labissiere is expected to leave for the draft, with junior Marcus Lee and 7-foot freshman Isaac Humphries also possibilities. Kentucky continues to pursue 2016 bigs including five-stars Harry Giles (No. 2 overall) and Bam Adebayo (No. 7). The Wildcats will likely now shift some focus to the backcourt, where five-star guards De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons remain targets.
Kentucky's next pledge could come as soon as Saturday, when five-star forward Miles Bridges will choose from UK, Michigan State and Indiana.