Not much good can be said about the Haiti earthquake in 2010. And for Skal Labissiere, his life nearly ended at that moment. The native Haitian lay trapped under a collapsed wall for three hours while his father desperately sought help for Skal and the rest of the family. Even after rescue, he was unable to walk for two months.
Plenty of American hoopsters endure severe hardships on their way to prominence, but very few can tell a story like that one. Labissiere arrived in the United States clinging to a dream he nearly lost prior to his arrival, and from the moment he arrived he has worked vigilantly to establish a place for himself in the sport.
Labissiere first drew our attention in 2013. At the EYBL Hampton event, he proved with Team Penny that his height, length and skill warranted immediate high-major status in the 2015 class. Kentucky and Memphis already knew about him and the Tigers were able to get introduce him to campus on an unofficial visit, and both of the teams remain hot on his trail, among others.
His next national statement occurred at the Nike Elite 100 camp, where colleague Evan Daniels regarded him as the best overall prospect in attendance. Despite standing 6-11 and only 200 pounds, his elite skill level enabled him to create action out of nothing.
He then traveled to the NBAPA Top 100 Camp. That prestigious field — which mostly included rising seniors, not juniors — served as my first extensive exposure, and needless to say I emerged highly impressed with Labissiere's talent.
Though right-handed, he's a dedicated southpaw shotblocker who swats shots on the ball in the halfcourt or streaking from behind and pinning a layup off the glass. He's quick and light on his feet, and thus he should be enjoy a longer prime than many other big men who wear down prematurely due to cumulative punishment.
His scoring tools include a smooth facing jump shot with three-point range. He won't be a long-distance specialist in college, but down the road that ability will serve him well. Meanwhile, he actually prefers to play in the high post and shoots 15-footers at a high percentage. Though less comfortable with his back to the basket, he does possess a terrific hook shot with great touch.
His hands also are excellent, making him dangerous on the offensive glass as a tip-in artist. His passing is good for a big guy as well, and his overall energy and effort level are outstanding.
On the downside, he's very thin and carries a slight frame. Labissiere must become much stronger and also compete with a more physical style. He sometimes allows himself to get pushed under the rim and generally lacks a power game. He'll never be a full-time stretch forward because he moves more like a big man laterally, so developing greater inside/outside balance is key. Still, his confident hook shots and overall touch around the rim suggest he'll be able to make that transition.
From a recruiting perspective, he obviously did not grow up immersed in college basketball culture. Other players fitting that description in recent years have made decisions that might perplex Americans, and thus handicapping Labissiere's recruitment could prove a fool's errand.
If he can adopt the more American style on the court — including tossing his body into opponents more eagerly than he does now — he's certainly a legitimate contender for the top spot in the class and for lucrative achievements beyond.