Fearless freshman Gabe Vincent starting strong at UCSB

UCSB's Gabe Vincent is a true freshman from Modesto, California. (Presidio Sports Photo)

UCSB’s Gabe Vincent is a true freshman from Modesto, California. (Presidio Sports Photo)

 

Early in the second half of UC Santa Barbara’s contest with the visiting University of San Diego last week, Gaucho freshman Gabe Vincent’s number was called to enter the game.

It didn’t take long for the 18 year old’s presence to be felt.

The first-year guard drove to the Torero basket and scored a quick jump shot while drawing a foul. Shortly after making the ensuing free throw, Vincent would strike again with another jumper to tally five total points in less than two minutes.

Vincent’s scoring run was executed all while maintaining the unflappable demeanor of an experienced upperclassman. His poise was even more remarkable given the fact that he is the first true freshman to start a game for UCSB since 2008.

Friday’s game against San Diego Christian will be his sixth as a Gaucho. In his first five games, he’s UCSB’s third-leading scorer behind Alan Williams and Michael Bryson.

Head coach Bob Williams says that Vincent’s current role on the team has been planned out from day one.

“I knew when he committed that he was going to be a starter as a freshman,” Williams said. “There was no doubt in my mind.”

UPCOMING UCSB HOME GAMES:


  • Friday, December 19 – San Diego Christian, 4 p.m.
  • Friday, January 2 – Vermont, 7 p.m.
  • Monday, January 5 – Florida Gulf Coast, 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 15 – Cal State Northridge, 7 p.m.

To the refreshingly modest Vincent, however, his starting status has yet to impact his mentality.

“People are always big on the ‘freshman starting’ thing,” Vincent says, his shoulders relaxed while maintaining a focused gaze. “But at the end of the day, I’m just another player.”

Opposing teams would beg to differ.

Although Vincent wasn’t in the starting five to begin UCSB’s game against USD, he took full advantage of the opportunities he was given. Vincent finished the game with 13 points — despite only having 15 minutes of playing time.

Williams says that Vincent is a vital change-of-pace weapon for the Gauchos. “He’s come off the bench and has given us a spark,” Williams said.

Vincent creates this “spark” by playing with a fearlessness and toughness that many freshman college athletes lack. It’s the same fearlessness that led him to take a 3-point shot with ten seconds left during UCSB’s showdown with SMU in early December. The Gauchos would end up losing to the Mustangs, coached by the Hall-of-Famer Larry Brown, but Vincent drained his clutch 3-pointer to force overtime.

UCSB freshman Gabe Vincent, sizing up a USD defender, is the Gauchos' third-leading scorer.

UCSB freshman Gabe Vincent, sizing up a USD defender, is the Gauchos’ third-leading scorer.

According to Vincent, his confident playing style is second nature.

“That’s the only way I know how to play,” he says. “I’d rather make an aggressive mistake than a passive one.”

“He has an edge to him,” Williams said. “He’s kind of our enforcer.”

The soft-spoken Vincent more than earns his reputation with his play. The six-foot-two guard’s tenacity on the court led him to contest an interior shot against USD’s six-foot-nine Jito Kok without any hint of hesitation.

Many true freshmen would feel discomfort or intimidation from the expectation of being an immediate contributor in UCSB’s fabled Thunderdome. To Vincent, no matter how big the game gets, the sport itself never changes.

“There’s still ten guys, a couple refs, and come coaches,” Vincent says with a slight smile. “At the end of the day, it’s you and your team against another group of players.”

Vincent’s relaxed approach to basketball stems from a rare sense of maturity, gained from his past basketball experience.

He grew up in Modesto, California — a place named the No. 5 on the “Most Miserable Cities in America” list by Forbes in 2013 due to its high unemployment rate and crime.

“You get used to it,” Vincent says. “You know where not to go, and when not to go there.”

Vincent points to his support system as helping him maintain his focus while growing up amidst the distractions of Modesto.

“That’s a big testament to my family, I would say,” he explained. “My parents made sure that I got good grades. If basketball was something that I wanted to do, then I really needed to focus on it.”

As a way to wisely use his free time, Vincent turned to basketball in the summer. He participated in several youth basketball leagues, such as Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League (EBYL) — a training ground for the nation’s best high school players.

It was in the EBYL where Vincent played with the likes of Stanley Johnson and Jahlil Okafor, two of America’s top freshmen playing for Arizona and Duke, respectively.

“He was un-phased by that,” Coach Williams said. “He’s used to being around good players.”

Vincent’s time in summer ball helped him transition to college hoops while being sufficiently battle-tested. “You’re playing against stars in that league,” he says. “So coming out here it’s like, ‘I’ve been there before, there’s nothing to be afraid of’.”

Luckily for UCSB — a school whose entire athletic program makes a living off of recruiting only the most mutually interested athletes — it was love at first sight for Vincent coming out of high school. Vincent played at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton.

“I just fell in love with Santa Barbara. The team, the coaching staff,” Vincent explained. “I had to narrow it down to a top five, but no one was ever near Santa Barbara. It was the clear No. 1.”

Vincent’s enthusiasm for being a Gaucho led to immediate support from his fellow teammates, which includes “Big” Al Williams, who SB Nation referred to as “the Best College Basketball Player You Haven’t Heard Of.”

“It’s great with him,” Vincent says. “He does it all. In the locker room, on the court, outside the court, in workouts. He’s easily one of the best ‘big men’ I’ve ever played with.”

With Vincent bursting out on the scene, it will be expected of him to carry the torch once Williams leaves UCSB.

“It’s nice to have a young guy who we’re going to lean on in the future to be a role model, and take charge of the team,” Coach Williams says. “He’s going to be that guy.”

First things first, Vincent says, as the mature freshman is keeping his focus on the current season.

“When that time comes — if it comes — we’ll deal with it then,” he says. “But right now we’re trying to enjoy this season, and what we have with Al. For now we’re going to focus on having him here and getting to the tournament.”

Vincent’s rise to prominence has come with a bevy of compliments and praise, but the young man is far from being content. According to Vincent, he’s just getting started.

“It’s still not where I want to be,” Vincent says with a stern look. “I wouldn’t say that I’m satisfied — at all.”

With a holy grail of experience under his belt, and the support of his coaches and teammates, Gabe Vincent is set to take the Big West by storm.

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