PHILADELPHIA — Last week’s Reebok Classic Breakout featured a slew of talented big men in Elijah Thomas, Diamond Stone and Chimezie Metu, but 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere was as impressive as any of them.
Former Virginia, Providence and Xavier coach Pete Gillen coached Labissiere all week and came away saying he likes the young man’s game but that he needs to be more assertive.
“He got better as the week went on,” Gillen told SNY.tv. “He’s such a nice young man. He’s a beautiful kid, you want your son to be more like him, but he’s gotta be more aggressive. But as the week went on he got more aggressive. In his last game he was terrific [scoring 22 points]. He was hitting shots, he was like a volcano that grew.
“He’s a finesse post guy. You can say four/five. He’s certainly comfortable facing the basket but I think he’s a versatile post man. He can play the four or five.”
Labissiere’s story has been well documented.
Born in Haiti, he was pinned under a pile of rubble after the devastating earthquake that hit that country on Jan. 12, 2010 and killed more than 200,000 people.
He was ultimately rescued by his father, and later came to the United States, where he enrolled at Evangelical Christian in Memphis to play for legendary Tennessee high school coach Terry Tippett.
“He worked with me on the fundamentals of the game,” Labissiere said.
He is just now working his way back into action after missing four months with a stress fracture in the L5 vertebrae in his spine.
“My timing is off because I’ve been out for four months,” he said. “I’m just trying to get back in the flow for the game. I’m still not where I want to be. I’m still trying to get my explosiveness back to where I want to be. I’m a shot-blocker, my timing is kind of off, so I’m just trying to get that back.”
He is being courted by many of the top programs in the country, and listed Memphis, Kentucky, UNLV, Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Baylor, North Carolina and Georgetown, saying he plans to cut his list “after the summer.”
Labissiere, 18, indicated he may transfer from Evangelical Christian for his senior season, but still considers Memphis home and thus considers the Tigers a real option for college.
“It’s a great school,” he said. “It’s my second home, Memphis is my second home.. Moving from Haiti and the city really embraced me so they really want me to play there. And they have a great coaching staff. I really love coach [Robert] Kirby and coach [Josh] Pastner.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari was also in Philadelphia the first night and they have offered as well.
“Coach Cal, he does it,” Labissiere said. “He puts guys at the next level, he pushes you as hard as you can. It’s just a great program.”
Asked how it felt to have Calipari watching him, he added: “It felt good. He didn’t get the chance to watch me all season because I was out so it’s good to see that they are still interested in me.”
Kentucky, and many others schools, too.