Better Late Than Never for Auburn Forward

Ken Gabriel is eager to play basketball for the Tigers this season.

Auburn, Ala.--Ken Gabriel got a late start with his plans to be an Auburn Tiger, but is getting an early start on his first season as a member of Coach Jeff Lebo's basketball team.

The two-time All-State forward from North Carolina spent the 2008-2009 season at Paris Junior College in Texas after a delay in being processed through the NCAA Clearinghouse that rules on who is and who isn't eligible to compete in college athletics.

When fall semester classes started last August the forward was still in limbo waiting on a ruling. He was later qualified by the clearinghouse, but by that time it was too late for Gabriel to be admitted to Auburn. He had the option to enroll for the second semester in January or attend junior college for one season, which he decided to do.

Gabriel finished his freshman year at Paris this spring and enrolled for classes at Auburn in May and will have three seasons of eligibility for Lebo's Tigers.

"The adjustment is going pretty well and I am glad to be around here," Gabriel tells Inside the Auburn Tigers.

In addition to taking classes, he is participating with the other four members of Lebo's 2009 signee class plus the returning players in offseason conditioning drills.

"We are working hard Monday through Thursday," Gabriel says. "I am trying to put on some weight. I am right at 185 and I am trying to get to 200. I am lifting weights and eating as much as I can. I eat around five or six meals a day.

"It is pretty hard trying to gain weight with the workout schedule, taking classes and then the guys want to play pickup with you, too," Gabriel adds. "I think the weight will eventually come."

Although he wanted to be at Auburn last season, the forward says playing a year of juco basketball was beneficial. "It went pretty good," he says. "I ended up averaging 13 points and eight rebounds and I was named MVP of the team. We lost in the conference championship game by two in double overtime to Navarro. I think playing there helped my game a lot. Every game that we played was a good competition level."

A player with the ability to score from three-point range, he has the height to be a factor in the paint. "I am around six-foot-eight and it looks like I am still growing," he says. "Every time I go home people ask me if I have grown."

Gabriel is expected to play both small forward and power forward for the Tigers. "I am a natural three (small forward)," he says.

Gabriel is shown with the new basketball arena construction site in the background.

This summer, when he is working out on his own, he is emphasizing his ball-handling skills and "getting real quick on my release" when he shoots his jump shot.

He is also working on adding another dimension to his offensive game. "I can finish with both hands, but I mainly shoot with my right hand," he says. "In my free time I work on shooting with my left."

Gabriel notes that the returning players on the team have been useful in helping him make the adjustment to Auburn. "I talk to Frankie (guard Frankie Sullivan) and Larry (guard Larry Williams, Jr.) a lot. I get a lot of advice from them."

During his senior year in high school at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C., Gabriel's team finished as the runnerup in the private school playoffs. "It was an amazing team even though we lost in the state championship game," he recalls. "We had it all and we had it together."

While he was the star of the team, his fraternal twin, Keith, a 6-3 shooting guard, was also a key player. Keith signed with VMI and was the third-leading scorer last season averaging 13 points per game for a team that finished with a 24-8 record. "Keith is left-handed and a good shooter," the Auburn sophomore points out. "He had a good freshman season."

Gabriel says that classes are going well so far this summer. "I am not sure what I am going to major in. I am taking a career orientation class this fall. I took a criminal justice class the last mini-mester that I really enjoyed so I might start heading that way."

Joining Gabriel for the second summer school session are freshmen signees Ty Armstrong, Rob Chubb, Andre Malone and Earnest Ross. Gabriel has been working out with the newcomers and says he likes what he sees.

"I think we have a good freshman class coming in," he notes. "I think we are going to be running and gunning this year and it is going to be fun. I like to play that way. I like to get the rebound and go."

With cheerleader camps and other activities going on at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum this summer, the basketball players don't get to work out a lot on their homecourt, but do have access to the auxiliary gym for workouts and pickup games.

Next year at this time the Tigers are expected to be moving into their new arena that includes separate state-of-the-art practice and training facilities for the men's and women's basketball teams. Each player will have access to the facilities seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the same setup available at the new men's and women's golf training complex.

"We are really excited about the new arena," Gabriel says. "I can't wait to get into it. The practice arena is going to be great. You will be able to go in there and shoot when you can't sleep at night."

Although he wanted to be playing SEC basketball last season, he notes that he is happy it will be a reality this year. "It was frustrating, but eventually I got here and that is all that counts," he says.

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