Everyone knew he had talent.
The 6-8 power forward from Denver could do it all — post-up, shoot, rebound, you name it. Coming out of high school, freshman Gabe Stephenson was a two-time all-state pick, a three-time letter winner, and was named to USA Today’s honorable mention All-America team. The guy had skills. The only question was when would he be able to use them?
After an impressive start, an injury to his little toe during a scrimmage against Niagara left Stephenson on the bench as the season began.
“The toughest part was that I didn’t feel like I was part of the team as much,” Stephenson related. “You see the team work hard together in practice and then put that into games, and you can’t be there.”
The freshman patiently watched as his team dropped seven of its first eight games. He bade his time on the bench, allowed his foot to heal, and came out with a bang against Lehigh on Dec. 22, scoring 11 points and 11 rebounds while helping his team to its first Division I victory of the season, 69-61.
“That’s a testament of how hard he’d worked,” Donahue praised. “But his better days are ahead.”
Since then, Stephenson has only risen in stature as he quickly picked up Donahue’s offense. He holds the highest rebounding average (6.8) and fifth highest scoring average (5.3) on the team. He is already playing 24 minutes per game.
“Having the time off helped me pick up the offense,” Stephenson said. “I could observe what worked and what didn’t, and that helped me adapt to their style of play.”
“Rebounding is something we needed and he’s done a nice job with that. With him, we have a little more size and we can play a little bigger,” Donahue added.
But while his defense has been an undeniable force on the court, his foot still affects him on the offensive side of the court.
“I still haven’t been able to jump as much as I’d like,” Stephenson revealed. “But the biggest thing is not having been able to work out those couple of months [with the injury].”
As the season progresses, he hopes to improve his shooting as well as his outside play — a new facet of Donahue’s offense.
“I didn’t have that experience during high school,” he said. “Now I’m forced to handle the ball on the perimeter.”
But all in all, the offense has been running smoother with Stephenson at the post.
“We’ve improved a lot,” he assured. “We’re so young, but we’re maturing very quickly. The seven freshmen, and Barnes and sophomores are still making improvements but the biggest change is that the offense is coming around better.”
Everyone knew he had talent. With an injury behind him, he’s made the most of his chance to use it.
Archived article by Sumeet Sarin