BRIGHTON, MA — For Wenyen Gabriel, the Boston Celtics are his newest team in a nomadic journey of his NBA career, but a familiar stop.
“It’s been good ... being that I’m from this area,” Gabriel said after Wednesday’s practice. “So a lot of people in the organization that might know me or know people that know me. So they’ve been welcoming me in, and I’m just taking it one day at a time, and I think it’s been good so far.”
Gabriel was born in Khartoum, Sudan and spent some time living in Egypt, but he moved to Manchester, New Hampshire when he was three years old. He spent three years at Trinity High School in Manchester before leaving for Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts for his senior season.
The local product was rated a five-star recruit by ESPN and attended Kentucky, where he spent two seasons before entering the NBA.
After spending time with six different franchises in four years, Gabriel signed on with the Celtics following the Jrue Holiday trade, but he had previously been in contact with the team throughout the summer.
“I came back here in the summer twice already,” Gabriel said. “So I was able to get acquainted with the staff and players and do a couple of free agent workouts.”
And once the Holiday move went through, Boston brought in Gabriel right away.
“It was kind of in the works, but we talked the day before when the first trade had happened, they just kind of did like a wellness check on me,” Gabriel said. “And the next day, once they finally made the trade, I had to fly out the same day. So I just had to pack up and make sure I was ready to come out east.”
With Robert Williams gone, the Celtics are thin at the big man position, with Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, and Luke Kornet rounding out their rotation, Gabriel, 6-foot-9, could have a role.
He spent last year with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he was forced to play the five - a move that could help him find a way into Boston’s rotation.
“Playing with the Lakers was different for me because that was the first time in the NBA of me playing at the five man position,” Gabriel explained. “I normally was playing at the four-man position throughout my early years in my career with Sacramento, Portland, [and] New Orleans. And then when I finally got to LA, I had to make an adjustment.”
Gabriel appeared in 68 games for the Lakers, playing 15.1 minutes per contest. He averaged 5.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 59.6% from the floor.
LA primarily used Gabriel as a hustle and energy guy, giving him spot minutes throughout their postseason run. He spent time guarding Jaren Jackson Jr. in their series against the Memphis Grizzlies and saw some run against the Golden State Warriors, too.
He’s hoping to bring some of that energy to the Celtics.
“I’m not thinking they’re expecting me to do anything new,” said Gabriel. “That’s out of the character of what I’ve already done in terms of bringing energy, toughness getting us extra possessions, being able to switch, being versatile out there running the floor, being athletic blocking shots.
“There’s a lot of different things I can do defensively being a good help defender. A lot of things I do as a player. It’s about integrating that into what the team has and [their] culture. This team, they have a culture, they have a certain way that they like to get things done on the court and off the court and that’s expected of you. And coach does a good job of holding people accountable for that. So that’s something I commend them for as well.”
On the court, Gabriel’s defensive presence will be useful, but off the court, he’s already building relationships as well.
The 26-year-old is around the same age as the rest of Boston’s core players, and he played against a couple of them in high school. Those past connections have made the transition to the Celtics easier.
“Jayson [Tatum], I played against him in high school, and I know I know who he is,” said Gabriel. “We already follow each other on Instagram. I spoke to him a little bit. He’s already welcomed us in, and we all have a lot of mutual friends as well. Jaylen [Bronw], too. Payton. I played against him in high school as well. So [they] are very welcoming.”
Boston went through a ton of changes this summer. With guys like Marcus Smart and Grant Williams gone, the Celtics will be looking to their stars to step up as leaders. Al Horford is the veteran in the locker room, but Tatum and Brown will need to put in extra effort to make their voices heard.
From what Gabriel has experienced so far, that’s exactly what they’ve done. And they’ve done it the right way.
“I like how you got some humble stars here, and they’re really leading out here,” Gabriel said. “And coach will also commend them for that on the court. On the court, how they’re doing [things] defensively by setting a good example and talking to other people. So I appreciate them as leaders on the team.”
With a big opportunity in front of him, Gabriel is embracing his chance, and he’s glad to be doing it at home.
“Coming in back, it was kind of like a welcoming home from the organization, also from the people in New Hampshire and in the area that know who I am,” said Gabriel. “So [there are] a lot of Celtics fans who are really excited for me to be back and part of the team. So I’m excited. I’m happy to be back home.