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(From July 12, 2016)
There was a time when the book on Kenny Gabriel read like this: He can’t shoot.
True or not, Gabriel decided to do something about it. He decided to get the keys to the gym.
More specifically, Gabriel got the keys to the gym at Cedar Hill High School in Dallas. His wife’s godmother is a teacher there.
“I have to make five in a row from each spot before I can move to the next one,” he said.
Gabriel is a 6-foot-8 forward who played for the Cavaliers’ summer team in Las Vegas.
During his college days at Auburn, he was known primarily for his high-flying ways. He even soared his way to the slam dunk competition at the Final Four.
But he was also known as a guy who was a bit of a “tweener,” a guy who wasn’t quite small forward and not quite power forward. He was supposedly somewhere in between.
And no one ever accused him of being a perimeter threat. It was pretty much the opposite.
Gabriel went undrafted in 2012. He spent some time playing in Israel, but unrest and several explosions made him decide to quickly return home.
He spent the past two seasons playing in Turkey. Through it all, he’s reinvented his game.
“I’ve put a lot of emphasis on working on my shot, and just being confident in it,” Gabriel said.
It seems to be doing the trick.
“In my last year of college, I shot about 31 or 32 percent,” he said. “Last season, it was 42 percent.”
The Cavs have taken notice, with assistant general manager Trent Redden even comparing Gabriel to a young James Jones.
“He’s a big wing shooter,” Redden said of Gabriel before summer league. “That’s a role we see him playing.”
ON THE RISE
The Cavs discovered Gabriel almost by accident. They were in Turkey watching 2015 second-round pick Cedi Osman, and Gabriel played for an opposing team.
That was around the start of the New Year, and the Cavs “really liked me,” Gabriel said.
They began recruiting Gabriel for their summer squad shortly thereafter.
He started all seven games alongside the likes of Jordan McRae and Kay Felder, averaging 7.4 points on 40 percent shooting. Before that, Gabriel averaged 12 points in three games with the Heat in Orlando.
Not necessarily eye-popping numbers. But the Cavs aren’t expecting to find the next LeBron James in the offseason.
They just want somebody who can give the likes of James a break.
Gabriel knows he could be that guy. He also understands he may not.
He tries not to focus too much on either possibility.
“I was just happy to have an opportunity,” he said. “It’s not always easy, but I try not to get caught up in what might happen next, or if I’ll get an invite to training camp.”
The possibility exists that Gabriel returns overseas. He’s all about basketball and family — and when he played in Turkey, his wife and two young sons went with him.
For now, he’s dialed in on what he can do in the United States, on what he can do to keep improving his jumper.
So it’s back to making five straight shots from five (or sometimes seven) different spots. When he misses, he starts over.
“I know the Cavs like me,” he said.
“But I know all of that can change. I just need to go out there and do what I do and try to stay consistent.”