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Skal Labissiere Will Be Fine, Just Not When We Had Hoped

skal-fine

“He’ll be fine.”

We’ve heard it time and time again, since the day Skal Labissiere began practicing in his Kentucky uniform last fall.

“He’ll be fine,” John Calipari assured us at the beginning of the season, and again last week from Baton Rouge.

But will he be fine?

In the long run, yes, Skal Labissiere will be fine. He is too big and too skilled offensively to not figure out how to do the other things that make a good basketball player. However, when he figures it out remains to be seen, and the hope that it is some time this season is running out of time.

I think it is more than fair to say Labissiere has been a huge disappointment through the first half of his freshman campaign in Lexington. You can blame that on all of the hype surrounding him throughout recruiting. You can blame it on his unwarranted NBA Draft projections. You can blame it on his absence from competition his senior year of high school. Or blame it on the lofty expectations placed upon all freshmen who come through the Kentucky program. But there is no denying it: Skal hasn’t been what anyone expected.

And to make matters worse, he has gotten just that: worse.

Take a look at his game-by-game statistics and commentary:

 


Game 1: Albany

Stats:

Points: 9
Rebounds: 5
— Off: 1
— Def: 4
Blocks: 4
Fouls: 2
FGM-FGA: 3-5
FTM-FTA: 3-4
Minutes: 30

What John Calipari said afterward:

“He did okay. We talked about it. We have been working on it and he did not do exactly what we’re trying to do. But this is his first college game. He didn’t play high school ball for two years. He had work out guys. What you saw is what you’re going to get right now for a while. But he also did some good things to score and that. But if they double team, he’s, it’s more of a scheme. If they double, and that’s supposed to be their strength, we’re going to make it their weakness by doing these things. And he didn’t, he just, he couldn’t react to them. He just held the ball.”


USA Today

Game 2: NJIT

Stats:

Points: 26
Rebounds: 5
— Off: 3
— Def: 2
Blocks: 2
Fouls: 3
FGM-FGA: 10-12
FTM-FTA: 6-6
Minutes: 21

Calipari:

“The thing is, I’ve got to figure him out. I haven’t done a really good job. And this is what happens: He’s totally different than Karl [Anthony-Davis]. He’s just a different player. He’s totally different than Anthony [Davis]. And I’m not comparing him to them two, as far as he’s as good as them, he’s different.

So, now you want to play him like Shaq [O’Neal]. He’s not Shaq. He’s never going to be Shaq. So when you get him the ball in seven, eight feet from the basket and he can turn and shoot, I don’t know how you guard him. He’s 7 foot and he raises that thing up.

Made free throws today. He just — he’s got to rebound more. And I told him the one thing that I can’t do for him is teach him fight and grit. He’s going to have to do that. But he made strides, he did good today.”


CoachCal.com

Game 3: Duke

Stats:

Points: 7
Rebounds: 4
— Off: 2
— Def: 2
Blocks: 1
Fouls: 5
FGM-FGA: 3-5
FTM-FTA: 1-2
Minutes: 13

Calipari:

“I was on Skal. Fight, man. Like the rebounds at the end. We’re up 15; let’s end this. And he goes and gives them a chance.”

“He’s going to be fine. He’s going to be fine. It’s all new to him.”


Game 4: Wright State

Stats:

Points: 13
Rebounds: 3
— Off: 2
— Def: 1
Blocks: 1
Fouls: 4
FGM-FGA: 6-12
FTM-FTA: 1-5
Minutes: 24

Calipari:

“Couldn’t throw it to the post. Skal couldn’t hold a position. And we tried.”


Getty Images

Game 5: Boston

Stats:

Points: 16
Rebounds: 7
— Off: 2
— Def: 5
Blocks: 3
Fouls: 3
FGM-FGA: 7-13
FTM-FTA: 2-5
Minutes: 29

Calipari:

“Skal, he’s trying, but this is all new. He doesn’t react like the other guys right now. He’s got to start reacting quicker. React quicker to voices. When someone says something to you, you can’t look at them, what? What? What? You got to react to it. “Switch. Help. Step up Skal, step up.” You can’t be stepping back. And that’s kind of where he’s still figuring stuff out.

And I say that, he had 16 points and seven rebounds and three blocks and a steal. And we’re like, he’s got a long way to go. So, we’re looking for like 25 and 20 and 12 blocks.


Getty Images

Game 6: South Florida

Stats:

Points: 17
Rebounds: 4
— Off: 0
— Def: 4
Blocks: 3
Fouls: 3
FGM-FGA: 5-8
FTM-FTA: 7-8
Minutes: 29

Jamal Murray (no comment from Calipari):

“He’s trying to fight more, get open and make the pass easier for us. He showed that today and we have to keep working on it and keep pushing him to excel.”


Game 7: Illinois State

Stats:

Points: 2
Rebounds: 2
— Off: 0
— Def: 2
Blocks: 1
Fouls: 3
FGM-FGA: 0-1
FTM-FTA: 2-2
Minutes: 16

Calipari:

“He couldn’t catch it. We were trying to go to him. As a matter of fact, I told guys, if he’s open and you don’t throw it to him, you’re coming out. Think about that. That’s where he is right now and it’s OK. I mean, he’s not figured some of this stuff out. He’s not figured how to play lower than the other guy. He’s not figured out that I got to move my feet and quit grabbing people. But that’s okay. And he is a really, really good player who is behind.

The good news is we have Alex and Marcus, so if he’s not playing well, we can still win. As we just try to make sure he’s getting better and better.”


USA Today

Game 8: @ UCLA

Stats:

Points: 6
Rebounds: 1
— Off: 0
— Def: 1
Blocks: 2
Fouls: 4
FGM-FGA: 2-3
FTM-FTA: 2-2
Minutes: 16

Calipari:

“He’s got to do it. He’s got no options. Got to get lower. Got to use leverage. You can’t try to use your arms and hands. When they come at you if you go down it’s a foul now. You can’t do it. He’s going to be fine. Look, I’ve got all young kids.”


Game 9: Eastern Kentucky

Stats:

Points: 10
Rebounds: 4
— Off: 2
— Def: 2
Blocks: 3
Fouls: 3
FGM-FGA: 3-6
FTM-FTA: 4-4
Minutes: 25

Calipari:

“I thought Skal made strides. He’s not there yet, but he mixed it up. He dove on the floor. Now, he hurt his elbow, he said. But he did dive on the floor. I mean, so he’s making strides. I keep telling him, it has nothing to do with what you do offensively. You’re all seeing that’s pretty good offensively, but that’s not what it is.”


UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Game 10: Arizona State

Stats:

Points: 0
Rebounds: 0
— Off: 0
— Def: 0
Blocks: 1
Fouls: 5
FGM-FGA: 0-2
FTM-FTA: 0-0
Minutes: 13

Calipari:

“I’ll be honest with you: To do what these kids want to do, this is all a great thing that he’s got to work through, and it’s the first time in his life. You understand he came from Haiti. He played basketball for a year and a half and then he played church league for two years. He’s never been through any of this. This is all new to him.

Now, he played in a couple games that were more like pickup games. He made some jumpers. He ran up and down. And now there were no men. See, he’s playing against men now. The kid he went against was a senior and just bulldozed him, and he couldn’t play against a man. Well, this is all part of it.”

Rich Graessle| Icon Sportswire

Game 11: Ohio State

Stats:

Points: 2
Rebounds: 5
— Off: 1
— Def: 4
Blocks: 2
Fouls: 1
FGM-FGA: 1-7
FTM-FTA: 0-0
Minutes: 21

Calipari:

“Happy Skal did better. Still a ways away. I tell you, he does the jump hook, everybody’s happy. The next time, he shoots a fadeaway. ‘Shoot the jump hook again. Shoot the jump hook.’ Learning, and that’s all part of the process.”

“But I thought he made strides today. Like, he’s been pretty good in practice and he’s making strides now.”


Game 12: Louisville

Stats:

Points: 2
Rebounds: 3
— Off: 1
— Def: 2
Blocks: 0
Fouls: 2
FGM-FGA: 0-3
FTM-FTA: 2-2
Minutes: 10

Calipari:

“Skal, I wanted to leave him in the game. That one rebound he could not bring in. We got to win the game. I told him, you’re getting better, you’re way better, let’s just keep this going and see what happens.”


Getty Images

Game 13: Ole Miss

Stats:

Points: 9
Rebounds: 3
— Off: 3
— Def: 0
Blocks: 0
Fouls: 5
FGM-FGA: 4-7
FTM-FTA: 1-2
Minutes: 14

Calipari:

“He’s just got to come up with balls and react and do it. I thought that we had a couple guys look tired in that second half and he was one of them. He looked tired. He shouldn’t have been (tired). He didn’t play that many minutes, but I’m just happy he took that first step. He’s been better in practice, he’s got a bunch of guys cheering for him on this team. We do need him to play. We need his size and his ability to block shots.”

“I just wanted him to know everybody, including me, is happy and that we want you to play that way. But he’s got to do it. It doesn’t matter what we hope for. He’s going to have to go do it. I’m telling you, guys, it’s all fight. It’s — fight means as the shot goes up, I’m fighting for position. That’s what fight means. The shot on our team goes up, and I fight to get even so I can rebound it and lay it in quickly. And I’m in a position that when I do rebound, I don’t bring it down, I’m seven foot tall, and bounce it and gather myself and then I can’t it off or I walk. I’m not doing that. I’m in a dog fight, grabbing, straight up and go. He’s learning all that. He’s never played that way. This is all new. He’s going to be fine.”


Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | Times-Picayune

Game 14: @ LSU

Stats:

Points: 3
Rebounds: 2
— Off: 1
— Def: 1
Blocks: 0
Fouls: 2
FGM-FGA: 1-3
FTM-FTA: 1-2
Minutes: 16

Calipari:

“Well, it’s just day-to-day. Every day you’re trying to get him better. You’re using different things. You’re doing different things. There are days he’s better than other days. A lot of it is he just has to swim. We’re here for you, but you’ve just got to swim. I mean, you gotta get lower and understand what’s happening to you and then you gotta change. But he’ll be fine. He wasn’t the issue. We had some other guys who are veterans who gave us, you know, nothing. So, now you’re expecting him who is just trying to get his feet underneath him to do more than he’s capable of doing.”


USA Today

USA Today

Game 15: @ Alabama

Stats:

Points: 0
Rebounds: 1
— Off: 0
— Def: 1
Blocks: 1
Fouls: 3
FGM-FGA: 0-1
FTM-FTA: 0-0
Minutes: 4

Calipari:

(No comments.)


Game 16: Mississippi State

Stats:

Points: 5
Rebounds: 4
— Off: 1
— Def: 3
Blocks: 1
Fouls: 1
FGM-FGA: 2-3
FTM-FTA: 1-2
Minutes: 14

Calipari:

“I thought Skal was better today. Showed some signs. Now we’ve got to just keep giving him minutes and see where he can go. He did some good stuff today.”


 

As you can see, he is no better now than he was at the beginning of the year. His minutes have been cut in half since Christmas; he was averaging 22 minutes per game before the holiday break and he has averaged 11 minutes per game since. Patience is running thin as the season rolls on.

But “he’ll be fine,” as we were told last week.

Let’s hope so. It’s not like we find pleasure in breaking the kid down. I don’t enjoy writing this post and none of you enjoy talking about it with your buddies. Every single one of us wants him to do well, but we can’t ignore his regression and lack of contribution since SEC play began. He averages four points and two and a half rebounds in the four conference games.

Furthermore, if the season were to end today, he would have the second worst Total Rebounding Percentage among freshmen forwards and centers in the John Calipari era. Only Kyle Wiltjer was worse, and with all due respect to Kyle Wiltjer, that’s not saying a whole lot.

Here’s how all of Calipari’s frontcourt freshmen did on the glass: rebound-efficiency

In Player Efficiency Rating, he’s currently ahead of Wiltjer by 0.1, along with Daniel Orton. Again, that’s not saying a whole lot. per2

So what does all this mean?

It means it is time we accept Labissiere for what he is. There’s nothing wrong with taking more than one year to develop. He never asked anyone to name him a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft and he never told anyone he was the next Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns.

Labissiere is just trying to become the basketball player he can be and it is clear he isn’t ready for the pressure of the big stage at Kentucky and he isn’t ready for the big bodies of the Southeastern Conference.

Sure, it’s unfortunate for everyone who wants to see Kentucky be this great team with Labissiere as its dominant presence inside, but everyone also wants to win the Powerball and we will all wakeup tomorrow with the exact same net worth we had yesterday. Things don’t alway pan out the way we would like, and in Labissiere’s case, he just isn’t cut out to be what everyone hoped and expected. Not yet at least. His timetable is a little different.

But he’ll be fine. One day.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

36 Comments for Skal Labissiere Will Be Fine, Just Not When We Had Hoped



  1. GroundControlToNumber9
    8:32 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    We aren’t even ranked in the top 25 anymore people… wake up! http://collegebasketball.ap.org/poll-voter/seth-davis Seth Davis isn’t fooled and can see our lack of road games hides our true record.

    Our entire FRONTCOURT is log-jammed with backups that are part-timers.

    They are so nice… Cal should dismiss them all so they can go play the piano and write poetry.

    They will need to have, you know, those things they care about for when basketball is over… because it will be over… really soon.

    They make run of the mill college centers look like superstars… Marshall Plumlee, Thomas Welsh… can we take a vomit break yet?

    Lil’ Sweet ‘Playhouse’ Roster Call:

    Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Isaac Humphries, Skal Labissiere, Derek Willis

    The softest FRONTCOURT since the Coury Floury



  2. GroundControlToNumber9
    8:36 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink


  3. jim tom
    8:55 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Right on



  4. BMT
    9:05 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Drew is gonna be on Cal’s naughty list for publishing all this negativity about Skal… 😉 And I’m only partly joking!



    • freethrow
      1:13 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Agreed and he should be.



    • Wah Wah
      2:27 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      I don’t see how speaking truth is negativity. The world ain’t all red roses and yellow tulips. Skal has been disappointing when viewed against the expectations and his ratings out of HS. That said, he’s a young kid who hasn’t been playing ball all that long. Expectations were skewed and the scout sites were wrong. Skal will take a more normal route. He’s tall as hell, though, so he’ll make it to the NBA.

      There is nothing wrong with Skal. There was much wrong with the ratings by the scouting sites. He was highly overrated. That is not his fault.

      So, we’ll have him longer. Nothing wrong with that as long as UK fans understand this and leave the kid alone so that he can develop. Next year, he’ll be under much less pressure with the stronger recruiting class. With less pressure, he may come out of his shell and become what everyone thought he would be this year.

      Ain’t nothing wrong with Skal. The system and expectations got the kid. UK fans need to adjust to this reality.



    • BMT
      8:21 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      @Wah Wah – don’t get me wrong, I agree with everything Drew wrote. I was poking fun at what I thought was Calipari’s “over the top” response to comments from the NBA scout who spoke anonymously to Adam Zagoria about Skal. I understand that Cal wants to defend his player but to say something like “if I ever find out who it was, they won’t be welcome here anymore” was just silly (IMO).



  5. Cat Fan
    9:08 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    ????????????? I would ask the question…WHAT are the comments from ground control all about ,but don’t think it is even worth the time. ..

    “They are so nice… Cal should dismiss them all so they can go play the piano and write poetry.”

    That is so uncalled for, not sure if you are trying to be funny, sarcastic or just an embarrassment to society…what ever..those kids don’t need to be ridiculed & bullied.

    Drew excellent article!



    • CATandMONKEY
      12:56 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      No, he isn’t funny. He posted the exact same garbage on another post.



    • freethrow
      1:14 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Agree totally.



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      12:24 pm January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Hey Cat Fan… you know what they need.

      They need to be told that they are doing a GREAT job. Coddled until even softer.

      AND DEFINITELY defended. You followed your impulse to defend the helpless. Good instincts!

      That makes them really spread their wings as they won’t even need to become aware of their situation.
      Growth through sheltering FTW!



  6. daddy43040
    11:39 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    How many times is ksr gonna tell us it’s time to accept Skal for what he is?Lost count but i’m setting the over/under at 3 for the rest of the season.



  7. Wildcat Sheli
    11:50 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    After a 26 point performance in Game 2, how would YOU have felt if your coach had said the things that were posted above? Especially if all of this was new to you? (I am a VERY loyal Cal fan, but this is just how I see it). Each player will react differently to different teaching methods. I don’t think the negative comments when he was playing better helped his confidence at all.

    I do believe he will be fine.



    • Long Dong Silver
      7:30 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Cal would often be wise to just keep his mouth shut. He has an alarming propensity to say stupid shit.



    • Wildcat Sheli
      9:00 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      There are similarities between this team and 2013-2014, among others. There was a time when Cal was quite harsh in his comments and said that team “didn’t have time” to have fun. I recall listening to a post-game show after a terrible loss where Matt Jones was imploring Cal to let the players have fun and see what happened. Next thing you know, Cal was preaching for them to have fun on the court . . . and the rest is the history that was the magical ride of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. I know they’ve got to play tougher and smarter, but the pressure game after game is unlike anywhere else. That’s a lot for a young person to handle.



    • The Rest of the story
      9:32 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      He will be fine, he is too skilled, he had a hard childhood. Good grief how many years we gonna hear this BS. He is not skilled or it would show against someone other than little people. I do see him trying to be tough but he is far too weak and gets confused really easy. He has years to go before he will be “fine”.



    • UK Big Board Update
      7:44 pm January 14, 2016 Permalink

      LMAO. LDS: So. Do. You….



  8. Shawn Kemp
    12:07 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    I may be wrong, however I believe our best journalistic efforts should be geared towards what is and will be working in the future. Skal is not and will not be a factor this season sans a rogue game down the line where he foreseeably sinks a handful of his go-to jumpers and three or four putbacks for 14 points down the road. Before it’s all said and done, Skal will have his game. ‘A’ game. If we’re lucky two.

    This team is a classic rendition of defense over all. They’ve proven their 3-point game at this juncture and have beaten a variety of defensive schemes. They can score but points have been and will continue to be in streaks. Where’s the consistency inevitably going to come from? Poythress? Don’t hold your breath. Murray? (Even after years of Cal, are we that naive to believe in a freshman savior?) Even if Ulis tried to be ‘the guy’ it wouldn’t last long. This team will win by defense and defense alone. We’re not wowing anyone out of the stadium this year, folks.

    Twitter: @dallonadams

    [email protected]



    • CATandMONKEY
      1:02 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      That’s great except this is not a good defensive team. MS state shot a higher percentage against us Tuesday night in Rupp than has any opponent during the Cal era.

      Yeah , you might be able to believe in a freshman savior. ..John Wall, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis…to name a few.(Freshman saviors )



  9. cayts23
    5:03 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Karl Anthony-Davis is my favorite Kentucky player of all time.



    • BMT
      8:22 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      He was awesome, right?!? 😉



  10. kjd
    6:19 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Nice article, but I reached the same conclusion just by watching him play. We’ll see what next year will be for Skal.
    For the remainder of this season, and to be fair to the rest of the team, it’s time for Wynard to get his shot just like Skal. He might not fair any better, but we won’t know until he takes the court



    • gright
      11:02 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Only problem is I believe he will be developed by an NBA team not by UK since he needs the money and is not likely to stay more than one year. I hope I am wrong but I don’t think so.



  11. buttercup
    7:24 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Looks like somebody had a quota to fill. Nothing new here, but at least you filled up your allotted space…



  12. jonthes
    8:34 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Pop him in the center of a zone ten feet out, and in practice don’t let him shoot. When he passes out of that position with the option to shoot he will be a deadly weapon. And it may well happen this year. He’s not a back to the basket center.



  13. Ken Grizzle
    8:40 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    I believe in Cal and I believe in Skal. I worry too much.



  14. Sentient Third Eye
    8:41 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Skal is like getting a gold mine, but you have to dig a shaft to get to it, and it takes time to dig. The eventual payoff is assured, but that doesn’t do you any good if you go bankrupt before you get it dug. It’s possible to be broke while sitting on a fortune. That’s where we are with Skal.



  15. Sentient Third Eye
    9:03 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Another way to look at Skal is that his limited high school play means he was limited also in AAU, so he’s a throwback to the “old days” of a decades ago when it was normal for an elite freshman to come in not quite ready to play. Before the current era, the NBA was chocked full of guys who took a little time to develop.



  16. Nutwrap
    10:54 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Great article, but my net worth is $26 less this morning than it was yesterday.



  17. Biglaw Dawgin'
    11:56 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    I didn’t know that he hadn’t played that much organized basketball. Playing in the post is a skill that takes years to get decent at. If he sticks around another year, he’ll be ready to rock by 2017. Cal should keep giving him 15+ minutes a game to continue his development. Although he’s not playing great, he’s actually not that far away from how Lee’s playing.



    • kjd
      3:40 pm January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Nice insult of Marcus Lee.



  18. Biglaw Dawgin'
    11:58 am January 14, 2016 Permalink

    Great summary btw, Drew.



  19. kybigblue
    12:03 pm January 14, 2016 Permalink

    From day one Skal wasn’t strong enough to be a real factor on the board or on defense. In the Duke game he had trouble defending Marshall Plumlee someone not noted for his defense. He showed more potential on the offensive end. UK was not hitting from outside so teams like UCLA began to protect the lane making it even more difficult on Skal. It also may explain in part why the other two big guys have struggled in some games. His numbers have dropped against better competition and as his playing time has dropped.If Ulis, like Murray has recently, starts to hit better from outside teams wouldn’t be able to drop back in the lane so much. Plus.l don’t forget our forwards are terrible outside shooters.



  20. Bluecreeker
    12:31 pm January 14, 2016 Permalink

    I give up Drew.



    • GroundControlToNumber9
      9:34 pm January 14, 2016 Permalink

      Good decision. Now stay committed… and don’t give up on giving up!