24 Seconds presented by Ibotta: Wenyen Gabriel
Second-year NBA forward Wenyen Gabriel is just 40-plus games into his pro career, having played a chunk of those contests for Portland in the NBA bubble last summer, including four playoff appearances with the Trail Blazers. The native of Sudan, who celebrated his 24th birthday last Friday, played his college basketball at Kentucky. The 6-foot-9, 205-pounder joined Pelicans.com to discuss some of his background and thoughts on the NBA’s international growth:
Pelicans.com: When they make a movie about your life, who will play your part?
Gabriel: My little brother, easily. He’s not my twin, but he’s like my twin.
Pelicans.com: Are you a podcast guy or not so much?
Gabriel: I watch The No Chill Podcast. I watch Matt Barnes and the All the Smoke podcast. A few other player podcasts. But I mean, I haven’t always been a podcast person. Probably during quarantine, I started watching more podcasts.
Pelicans.com: If you could play any other sport professionally, what would it be?
Gabriel: If I was that good at it? I would want to play in Europe in the soccer league, because it’s lit over there.
Pelicans.com: How much of a passion is it of yours to play basketball?
Gabriel: I've committed my whole life to this, and I just started getting paid for it. It's been my therapy to escape from whatever else is going on in life. It's been a lot of things for me. It’s taught me a lot about life. It’s a tool. It’s brought me to where I am right now. I mean, basketball is way more than just a game. I’m real passionate about it.
Pelicans.com: How did you get started playing?
Gabriel: I started playing in like fifth, sixth grade. I used to play football when I was really young, and then my older brother was going to go play. He was going to go play pickup at this place. I just was trying to get out of the house, so I begged him to go. And that’s when I met this guy named David Cooper and he just had people playing. He started doing drills and stuff, telling you “That’s what it takes to get to D-1.” I mean, it just sounded good, and we were in there working every day and then playing basketball with friends. We played for fun. And then eventually we had ambitions.
Pelicans.com: There are a handful of guys on the New Orleans roster who are not from the United States. How much more talent is out there internationally? Do you feel like it’s something special to be a part of this wave?
Gabriel: Yeah. I feel special to be part of that. I mean, obviously we’re all capable, all over the world. People in different places might have ambitions early on. Some people might just want to come to the NBA because it’s just a big dream. Those same people out there that are dreaming, willing to put in the work – and obviously some people get opportunities. I think the more opportunities people out there get, we’re just going to get more stars coming up. It’s going to be the people with that vision, the people who have that talent, and more opportunities coming out to those different people.
I think a lot of times that’s what’s holding them back, not having the opportunity. There’s talent all over the world in the NBA. You can see that since it’s the best league, everybody wants to be here.
Pelicans.com: Is there one particular person who worked to spread basketball to your area of the world?
Gabriel: In South Sudan, Luol Deng, he’s a big leader in that for our country, and definitely a person that I look up to. What he’s done and the way he’s done it, have been really impressive. And, Manute Bol before him. He set a big precedent for players like myself and the next generation to come after me.
There’s so much more talent, guys starting to get opportunity now that came from our country. I’m sure we’re going to see more of us in the NBA. I mean, there’s a lot of people from our tribe too, like Thon Maker, Bol Bol, we're all from that same tribe. Deng Adel, he was playing here on a two-way contract last year. There's a lot of players in college, too, and we're going to see more.