​Gabriel Wenyen: Lakers’ power-forward returns home with peace message for South Sudanese

​Gabriel Wenyen: Lakers’ power-forward returns home with peace message for South Sudanese
Gabriel Wenyen, Lakers’ player who fled South Sudan when he was just two weeks old has returned home with the message of hope. [Photo: Alex Bullen]

South Sudan has all the prospects of becoming a prosperous country, Wenyen Gabriel, the Los Angeles Lakers power forward said.

Wenyen, who was born in Kha​​rtoum, 25 years ago, arrived in Juba on Thursday, July 21, together with his mother, for a 10-day visit.

Though he holds an American passport, which he acquired in 2015, Wenyen – a Dinka phrase for “wipe your tears”, says South Sudan will one day speak the same language – unity.

“We will be united, one day. We will become a prosperous country. But it is going to take a collective effort to come together,” Wenyen, who was dressed in a black t-shirt, loose sweat pants and white sneakers, told reporters at Juba Airport.

“We are stronger together,” he added.

Wenyen added the country can take advantage of the newfound form of the national team and use basketball to unite the country.

“Basketball brings us together and that’s a symbol of peace. Every time we [national team] win the game, it doesn’t matter who is [in] the team. We celebrate together. That is the kind of message of peace we want to bring – that we are all South Sudanese.”

Wenyen’s mother Rebecca Gak, moved with him and his three siblings to Cairo, Egypt, just two weeks after he was born, to escape the violence of the second Sudanese civil war.

Two years after moving to Egypt, his family was granted an appeal by the United Nations, to move the refugee family to New Hampshire, an American city with a large South Sudanese population.

In 2015, he received a US passport.

Though he represented the US at a junior level, the six-foot, nine-inch tall player said he plans to represent South Sudan at a senior level.

Wenyen signed a two-way contract with the Lakers On March 1, 2022.

A month later, his two-way contract was converted into a standard contract for the rest of the season.

He has also played for Wisconsin, Wisconsin (10-day contract), Wisconsin and Portland Trail Blazers.

His pro-journey began in 2018 with Portland Trail Blazers, even though he never made any appearance that season.

He played college basketball with Kentucky University and was one of the key figures for Kentucky Wildcats’ success during his sophomore (second) year.

That season, he tallied 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 37 games. He led Kentucky with 40 blocked shots.