UC Santa Cruz men’s basketball team’s biggest breakthrough athlete didn’t play on the NCAA team last year.
Just a couple of days before his first quarter at UCSC in fall 2014, forward Sam Gabbard was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot.
“It was absolutely devastating,” Gabbard said. “I was coming in as a freshman, and naturally I was very excited to show the coaches what I was capable of doing.”
Gabbard was sidelined with a cast for the first four months of the 2014-15 season. After a gradual recovery and rehabilitation, he picked up a basketball again with the practice team in the spring. However, getting back in shape at a high performance rate wasn’t easy.
“I lost my jump shot, ball handling skills and a lot of confidence in my game,” Gabbard said. “Thankfully, the coaches sat me down and reminded me why I play this game and what basketball means to me.”
Starting with fundamentals, Gabbard worked the technical aspects of his game every day during the offseason. He finally broke through in his sophomore basketball season, starting in the Slugs’ first win this season against Lewis & Clark College. Gabbard recorded a game-high of 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“I didn’t want to just be as good as I was before the injury,” Gabbard said. “I wanted to be better by redesigning my game and pushing myself to new limits.”
As the season progressed, coaches Ron and Joe Dubois commended Gabbard’s work ethic and consistent performance in games, which earned him a starting position in the rotation. On Dec. 29 Gabbard’s persistence was rewarded beyond having impressive statistics. In the pregame meeting before facing La Verne University, the Dubois brothers announced that Gabbard would be a team captain with senior starting guard Jared Ponce for the remainder of the season.
“[Gabbard] leads by example. He displays hard work outside of practice and plays hard every play of a game,” Ponce said. “He will sacrifice his body for the team and that’s how leaders show leadership through actions.”
Starting against La Verne, Gabbard played one of his best games of the year. He recorded 21 points and 10 rebounds, to lead UCSC to a 70-65 victory.
“From that game on, I had a different mindset going to games, and it has helped me perform at a higher level for the rest of the season,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard went from averaging 13.4 points and nine rebounds per game in December to recording 15.5 points and 12 rebounds per game one month later. He currently leads the team in rebounds and is the second highest scorer.
Over President’s Day weekend, the team traveled to Chicago to face off against Illinois Tech, where UCSC won 74-64. Gabbard recorded game-high numbers, showing success and tenacity as a young but capable team captain.
“The sky is literally the limit for Sam with this program,” Ponce said. “I am excited to pass the torch to him after my last game.”