Can Gabriel and the Tigers shake up SA basketball?
Gabriel unearths hidden talent Christopher Gabriel has come full circle in his basketball career. The journey for the 32-year-old began in his home city, Cape Town, where he picked up the game that would change his life. Gabriel was still a rough diamond but was fortunate to be blessed with the right attributes, which opened […].
Gabriel unearths hidden talent
Christopher Gabriel has come full circle in his basketball career. The journey for the 32-year-old began in his home city, Cape Town, where he picked up the game that would change his life.
Gabriel was still a rough diamond but was fortunate to be blessed with the right attributes, which opened a world of opportunity for him. The United States was where he would hone his playing skills, from high school right until college.
When he joined the professional ranks, the 6ft10 big man traversed different parts of the world and countries in the continents of Europe, South America, Asia were places he would call home.
Now his journey has brought him back home where it all began. Gabriel reflected on the road he’s travelled, which saw him depart South Africa as a teenager to pursue his dream.
“I played with the Montana Vikings here in Cape Town under coach John Goliath and at the same time I was scouted by the Seed Academy, now based in Senegal,” said Gabriel, who left South Africa in 2004 for The Patterson School in North Carolina on a scholarship.
The experience of those early years in America was a shock to the system for Gabriel. At that stage he realised, he was far from being polished as a player. He was also frank in his self-assessment of where he was and where he needed to be.
“I had my fifteenth birthday in the States. I told myself I am going to make a difference, but I got a reality check,” said Gabriel. “When I got there, I was the worst player at the school. I had to work harder than everybody else. To get up to speed, I watched a lot of games to understand how the game was played there.”
While he worked on improving himself as a player, Gabriel also had to navigate the cultural nuances of America, which was an easier process for him.
There is the cultural aspect as well. For guys who came through grassroot programs, the only way to catch up on the culture of America or anywhere in the world was to throw yourself in it,” explained Gabriel. “Luckily, I fit in well because of the things I was into, like sneakers. Also, the fact I was from an English speaking country was an advantage.
“From a basketball perspective, I knew I was not athletic. I knew I had to be more technical, like having a better jump shot and knowing how to dribble using my left and right hand.”
During his college career, Gabriel became comfortable in his skin as a player. He understood his role on the court, and the work he put in also came with its rewards. He also got to share the court with players who are household names in the NBA today.
“College was a huge learning period. Once you find yourself and you accept the type of player you are, what your skill level and athleticism level is, then you can work on other things,” said the former New Mexico State and University of San Diego player.
He also reflected on his time in college and some of the highlights. “It’s hard to sum it up. Being from South Africa and All American were accomplishments. I played in an AAU team with Brandon Jennings, James Harden and Kevin Love,” said Gabriel.
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After a fruitful college experience, Gabriel continued his career overseas, where he played in Slovenia, Georgia, Uruguay, Thailand, Spain and Iran.
The South African international player had some career highlights, especially in Iran. He lit up the stats board while playing for Shahdari Qazvin in the Persian state.
“In Iran, where I was the only import in the team, there was a game where I scored 49 points. I was averaging double digits in points and rebounds. It was a good year for me,” said Gabriel, who had to leave Iran last year because of both political uncertainties and Covid-19.
He returned home, and has since adjusted well in Cape Town, including a resumption of his basketball career with the American funded Cape Town Tigers.
Gabriel, who is co-captain of the team, has so far been ecstatic to play for the Tigers and has enjoyed the comforts of being at home.
“Man, it’s been amazing, getting the opportunity to play professionally in your hometown. There is a different level of motivation I can tap into because I am at home. I am comfortable,” said Gabriel. “I love being home. After every season overseas, I came home. In a foreign country, you feel like you are not from there. No matter how long you have lived or played there.”
Gabriel believes the introduction of the Tigers on the South African basketball scene will bring professionalism and a change to the game.
“As a team, we want to be champions, no matter where we play. CTBL or BAL, we want to be champions. We also want to change the culture of basketball. It’s not where it needs to be,” said Gabriel. “The people in the front offices need to take the game seriously than we are. We are playing the game. Players should not be arguing about salaries. That is something that should be taken care of by your agent and front office.
“Your job is to be a basketball player. So our job from Raphael, myself and coach Relton and everybody involved in the team is to change the culture of the game.”
Off the court, Gabriel has also unearthed a hidden talent. He has dabbled into the acting scene, and it could be something he looks into after his playing days.
“Yeah, it’s something I have just started. I did a commercial for Samsung. I am on a TV show called Raised by Wolves on HBO. I’m just a big guy. I play Billy, an android robot that fights in a gladiator-style theme. It’s been epic,” concluded Gabriel.
Since returning to South Africa, Gabriel’s star seems to be on the ascendancy. It seems we can expect to experience the best of him both on and off the court.