Early during his senior season, Skal Labissiere drew greater attention for his high school drama than he did for his actual game.
The 6-11 forward and native of Haiti transferred from Cordova (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian to Memphis (Tenn.) Lausanne for his final year, but Tennessee high school athletics administrators denied him eligibility, stating that he’d made the move for basketball reasons. Labissiere appealed the decision but met with denial, and for a time it appeared he’d be absent from the hardwood until college.
But the prospect and his guardian, Gerald Hamilton, discovered a solution. Out went Lausanne, and in came nearby Reach Your Dream Prep. A new school that surfaced under Hamilton’s guidance last fall with the apparent intention of enabling Labissiere to play this season, Labissiere ultimately did take the court.
|Labissiere’s jump shooting mechanics are nearly flawless|
And the high school controversy has been relegated to the background ever since. Reach Your Dream traveled to events such as the Marshall County Hoopfest, where Labissiere took a starring turn despite competing for an overmatched squad. He showcased unprecedented confidence and polish, and in a class without a clear No. 1, he began to emerge as the frontrunner.
Despite the initial turmoil he also found time to navigate a recruitment. Labissiere announced for Kentucky last fall, a pledge that naturally generated great attention but still went under-appreciated relative to its potential impact.
He wasn’t eligible for the McDonald’s All-American game due to the high school ineligibility ruling, but by the time he showed up at the Jordan Brand practices this spring, he’d built a nearly unassailable case as the top dog.
In Chicago at McDonald’s festivities, NBA scouts on hand generally panned the 2015 crop while lamenting Labissiere’s absence. And in New York for Jordan Brand, they took in the action with Labissiere present and remained fixated. He didn’t even play his best during the practice sessions, but he dazzled with potential and almost universally projects as the No. 1 draft pick next spring.
But that raises the question: How, exactly, did he become a relative easy choice for our No. 1 player? He didn’t compete at McDonald’s, was good, not great at Jordan Brand — readers understandably want specific clarification.
To start, Labissiere’s measurables are top-notch. At 6-11 and a possessing a standing reach of more than nine feet, he has very impressive length. He’s also reasonably explosive, highly mobile and fluid, and a genuine face-up threat. It’s those factors in combination that have made him a scouts’ darling, even if his current production is spottier than one might expect for the No. 1 prospect.
Frequent NBA mentions make their appearance here for good reason: Labissiere’s projection is based on the long term. Even if he debatably enjoys a higher upside than, say, Jahlil Okafor, that doesn’t mean his immediate college prospects are as promising.
Simply put, most everyone would be surprised if Labissiere achieves the impact of Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle or Anthony Davis in what’s almost certain o be one season at Kentucky. He faces strength hurdles to clear as well as a style that’s more favorable for the pros than college, where high percentage shots in the paint take on greater value.
Labissiere does score some with his back to the basket — he wields a very smooth turnaround jump shot — and should be effective for the Wildcats on the interior, but it’s what he will do later that has everyone so excited.
He roams the perimeter effortlessly and with purpose, and he spots up with balance and poise from long-range. He certainly should hit some of those shots for the ‘Cats next season as well, but like most young big men he needs greater repetition to become consistent from long-range. Labissiere is the bright and shiny engine under construction in the workship, not one that’s ready to push a high-octane vehicle.
For that reason, Kentucky fans may need to exercise greater patience than they had to with some of their recent superstars. Labissiere does project to make an early, season-long impact, but dominance may not truly describe his efforts in Lexington.
For our purposes ranking players for their ultimate career projection, however, his upper range has become so evident that the Scout Hoops team hardly needed to discuss whether he belongs at No. 1.
Now, it’s time for Labissiere to go out and prove it.