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More Than Trade Filler: Wenyen Gabriel’s Journey to the Blazers

Undrafted out of Kentucky, 22-year-old forward Wenyen Gabriel is poised to become a fan favorite for the Trail Blazers.

Sacramento Kings v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The addition of veteran forward Trevor Ariza and the subtraction of payroll headlined last week’s trade between the Trail Blazers and Kings. Underneath the names of Kent Bazemore and Ariza was Wenyen Gabriel. Undrafted out of Kentucky, Gabriel has clawed his way through the NBA’s hierarchy, leading to the conversion of his two-way contract. That odds-defying journey is impressive in and of itself, but it is far from the most inspiring part of Gabriel’s path to the Blazers.

From his birth, Gabriel’s story is one of inspiration and promise. Born in the northern city of Khartoum, Sudan to a family from what is now South Sudan, Gabriel served as a beacon of hope. Already dealing with the struggles that come with living as transplants in a war-torn country, Gabriel’s family was also mourning the loss of his sister that passed at just five months old. Due to those circumstances and the timing of Gabriel’s birth, a year after his sister’s passing, his family appropriately selected the name Wenyen. In the Dinka language, Wenyen translates to “wipe your tears”.

From Khartoum, Gabriel’s family put together the means to move to Cairo, Egypt. From Cairo, three-year-old Gabriel and his family were granted a pathway to the United States as refugees. Like several other Sudanese refugees, Gabriel’s family settled in Manchester, New Hampshire.

In Manchester, Gabriel formed a tight bond with his cousin Bol Madol. It was that relationship that helped foster the future five-star recruit’s love of basketball. Tragically, Bol drowned in a swimming accident at just 10 years old. Following his cousin’s passing, Gabriel adopted Bol’s jersey number, the number 32. Prior to arriving in Portland, Gabriel has donned that same number with the Wildcats and Kings.

Prior to 2019-20 season, the Kings put together an excellent video highlighting Gabriel’s backstory.

Gabriel’s journey to becoming a full-fledged NBA rotation player is still unfinished. That said, his penchant for overcoming tough odds paints a favorable picture for his future.

Gabriel, along with Ariza and Caleb Swanigan, are available to make their Blazers debut on Thursday against the Mavericks.