Andy Kennedy will look to return to the post season. (djournal.com)
By Phillip Fattore
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The mission of Virginia Military Institute is to produce educated, honorable men and women, prepared with prepared for the varied work of civil life, imbued with love of learning, confident in the functions and attitudes of leadership, possessing a high sense of public service.
With that in mind, meet Keith Gabriel a three-year letterman psychology major at VMI. On paper Gabriel is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard out of VMI, but both on and off the court he's much more. Off the court Gabriel is a humble young man who is driven by a high work ethic. On the court Gabriel's senior season was filled with career highs in nearly every statistical category across the board in his final season as a member of the Keydets, and he was named to the Big South All-Conference Tournament Team.
Gabriel is a dynamic and explosive player who gave the Keydets a burst of energy and an athletic presence on the wing. Gabriel has experience starting and coming off the bench during his college career and showed a consistent level of play during his senior season.
I went one-on-one with Gabriel to discuss his growth at VMI on and off the court and what the future has in store.
Q1. Michael Scotto: Keith, how did your time at VMI help you grow as both a player on the court and a man off it?
A1. Keith Gabriel: My time at VMI was one of the best experiences of my life. While going through the four years seemed to have taken forever, I learned a countless amount of things. A lot of the things that I learned off the court helped me through situations on the court. For example, off the court, I was put in situations to trust other people around me to get through difficult tasks. Staying focused, putting your team before yourself, and doing whatever it takes to complete a mission. These key values carried over on the court and helped push me through some key situations during a game or in practice. VMI makes you mature faster than you expect because it forces you to be a leader in situations where you feel that you aren't the best leader. The best way to strengthen your weaknesses is by practice. That is what VMI makes you do. I feel that the values that VMI has instilled in me will be carried for the rest of my life. My plan is to be able to show those values I have instilled and be a positive role model for those who know me and are around me on a daily basis.
Q2. MS: How did coach Duggar Baucom help you become a better player?
A2. KG: Coach Baucom is one of the greatest men and coaches that I have ever had a chance to play with. Even though, those feelings were not always there for him when I was a player. He made me earn every second that I played on the court. If I were not performing in a fashion to help my team in a game or not doing well in practice, I would get benched. That forced me to realize early that nothing was coming easy to me and I had to work hard day in and day out to play for him. Also, playing in a run and gun system I had to become more than an athletic wing player. I had to become a better shooter if I wanted to get significant minutes. Coming into my freshman year, I had a knee injury, which at the time, I felt that it was an unfortunate situation. I worked hard on my three-point shooting and mid range shooting because my athleticism was non existent because of the injury. It took awhile for my knee to heel but once it did, I was an all around threat on the court. I give some credit to Coach Baucom for this because even though I was not a shooter coming out of high school, he gave me confidence that I could shoot the ball and be sufficient. My knee injury was just an excuse to work harder on developing a good shot.
Q3. MS: In your senior season you put up career-high numbers across the board. What was the reason for that?
A3. KG: It was a numerous amount of things. It started with my coaching staff having faith in me and giving me the opportunity to play through some adverse situations. Secondly, my teammates helped by believing in me and picking me up when I was not playing well. They had a lot of confidence in me and I appreciate them for that. Thirdly, My family and friends were always there supporting me through whatever the situation was. Last but not least, the fan support that I had in Lexington, Virginia and a lot of people around the country was nothing less than extraordinary. With all these things, I wanted to play very well for myself, but more importantly for the all of the people who stuck with me through it all!
Q4. MS: Scouts and executives always talk about competition level. How did playing in the Big South Conference help you grow as a better player?
A4. KG: The Big South Conference is a conference, in my opinion, that is underrated. We had teams like Presbyterian beat Cincinnati this year, UNCA came close to upsetting Syracuse in the first round of the tournament, and there were teams that were at the bottom of the conference who played a lot of major schools tight in games. I was playing a lot of good players such as Matt Dickey, JP Primm, Eric Griffin, Alonzo Coleman, and Nick Barbour. Along with those great players, there were some great coaches in the conference so scouting before games were excellent and their preparation was outstanding. Being one of the top players on my team, they keyed in on me and forced me to bring my “A” game night in and night out. I knew I could compete with teams physically and athletically, but it was a process getting down the mental piece of it all during conference time. Mentally, the BSC definitely helped me develop that piece of my basketball game.
Q5. MS: In a draft where youth and potential is highly valued how can your college experience and age be a positive factor?
A5. KG: Honestly, I can't compare myself to those guys. They have been blessed with unbelievable talent and they are fortunate enough to put themselves in a position to get drafted at an early age, which is magnificent. What I can say is that over my four years being in college and going to a military school, I have learned how to be responsible on and off the court developed a leadership style that is flexible and able to help my team in anyway, mental toughness, and being able to fight through adverse situations.
Q6. MS: At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, you have good size for a point guard. Can you play point guard full-time? What are some other assets you can bring to a team?
A6. KG: I can play point guard full-time. I may not be quite ready right now, but I am definitely putting in the time and work to become a better point guard. I never played point guard until last year at VMI. That was another thing that Coach Baucom helped me develop. He could have easily given up on me when I first began playing the position because I was nothing more than an average point guard. Over time I began to grasp what I had to do and my decision-making came faster than expected. Some of the assets that I can bring to a team are toughness, competitiveness during practice, making my teammates better or in a game and doing whatever it takes to win the ball game, athleticism, and a player that is like a sponge and soaks up everything to become a better player.
Q7. MS: What have you done to improve your game since the end of your time at VMI and what weaknesses have you worked on?
A7. KG: I have worked on a variety of things such as ball handling, my jump shot, three-point shooting from NBA range, agility, moves attacking the basket, and my endurance. The weaknesses that I had in college were defense and my mid range jump shot so that it what I have been working on all summer. Furthermore, putting on some more weight and keeping my body healthy.
Q8. MS: Did you feel underrated as a basketball player coming out of VMI & the BSC?