After big adventure, Gabe Madsen settles in at Utah
Gabe Madsen, a 2020 Rochester Mayo graduate, has found a new basketball home after departing the University of Cincinnati and going on a road trip the middle of last season.
It was about this time last year that Gabe Madsen and his good buddy Jake McCabe were out in the middle of nowhere.
At least that’s how it felt to them at night in this particular landing spot, the Mojave Desert, not a voice or a light to be heard or seen anywhere, save for the moon and the stars.
Actually, there was one man-made illumination. That came from Madsen’s computer, which thanks to a cell phone hotspot, was tuned into a college basketball game. They were watching the team that Madsen had stepped away from just more than a month before, the University of Cincinnati.
Madsen had been a freshman on that Cincinnati team, along with his twin brother Mason Madsen. Gabe didn’t quite make it all the way through the month of December before deciding he’d had enough, the strain of playing major college basketball through a pandemic draining him, and his love for the game having suddenly all but disappeared.
When he was home on Christmas break that season, still a member of the team but close to the breaking point and longing for something completely different, Madsen’s mind was wide open when McCabe — who graduated from Rochester Mayo High School in 2019, a year before Madsen — delivered what many would consider a wild suggestion.
It went like this: “Hey Gabe, how about you cut ties with Cincinnati, right now, and you and I go on a two-month road trip.”
Four-star recruits like Madsen aren’t known to suddenly abandon things in the middle of a major college season and head off on an adventure.
“I wasn’t mad at anyone at the time, but I felt like I was missing out on things because I had to play basketball,” Madsen said. “I felt tied down by it. The idea of leaving for two months and having that freedom ... I didn’t realize how badly I needed it until I went. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
An invitation that had immediately struck Madsen as outlandish didn’t register that way for long. Soon, the two of them were packing up McCabe’s car, clothes, a tent, cooking supplies, a laptop computer, and yes, a basketball. They’d make countless stops at outdoor courts along the way, Madsen not wanting to put the game completely away and knowing he still wanted it to be in his college future.
But he needed a gap year. He was sure of it.
So off they went, with stops in Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California, camping out most everywhere they went.
That included that stop in the Mojave Desert, where the most surreal moment of their two-month trip took place.
It happened while watching that Cincinnati game, Madsen’s interest in the Bearcats still high with twin brother Mason having stuck things out there and earned ample playing time the last two months of that season.
As they watched Cincinnati play that evening in the desert, not a soul within miles of them and most having not a clue where Gabe had disappeared to, all of a sudden this happened:
“The announcer said my name,” Gabe said. “It was so crazy to hear it, sitting there by ourselves in the Mojave Desert, with nobody having any idea where we were.”
One year later, Madsen has a new home. It’s Salt Lake City, Utah. He also has a new team. The sophomore hit the NCAA transfer portal last spring and then quickly said yes to the University of Utah and its new coach, Craig Smith.
Madsen has not been the least bit tempted to hit the brakes on this season and head out to parts unknown. While Mason is still playing at Cincinnati, Gabe says Utah has been an ideal fit for him.
Gabe, who’s been joined by former Austin High School star Both Gach at Utah this season, has made his way into the starting lineup and has averaged 17 points his past two games.
Things didn’t start off as well for Madsen, with him enduring a collapsed lung just before the Utes' season opener. He had surgery on it, sat out for three weeks, and has gradually worked his way back, and has started the last five games.
Utah is struggling to win games at just 2-13 in the Pac-12 Conference and 9-16 overall. But Madsen hasn’t struggled at all to gain joy from this experience.
“I am able to handle losing, because our team gets along so well — that makes things a lot easier,” Madsen said. “But we do have a bunch of competitors, and I feel like we keep getting better. I don’t think our record speaks to how good of a team we are.”
As for that trip he took a year ago, it still speaks to him and likely forever will.
It rekindled his love for life — and basketball.
And his buddy, McCabe? Madsen sees him every day. They’re University of Utah roommates.
It’s been an adventure.