At only 14 years old, Skal Labissiere had to fend for his life while living in Haiti thanks to a life-threatening, 7.0 magnitude earthquake which affected the lives of millions.
Labissiere, his brother Elliot and mother were all inside their house when the earthquake hit. Luckily, his father was outside working on fixing their basketball hoop, and he was able to remove the rubble that collapsed upon the three.
Labissiere and Elliot got their legs caught by the rubble, which made them unable to walk for a few weeks. It was at this point that Skal’s father finally changed his mind about Labissiere moving out prior to age 16-18, and before he knew it, Skal was on his way to the United States at just 14 years old.
Labissiere moved to Olive Branch, Mississippi, where he lived with his guardian, Gerald Hamilton. Hamilton ran the Reach Your Dream Foundation, which helps bring international prospects to the United States.
Labissiere started to play varsity basketball as an eighth grader only eight months later at Evangelical Christian School in Cordova, Tennessee. At the start, Labissiere struggled on the court without the ability to understand English. Quickly, the language barrier fell, and his game and body began to grow.
Over the course of his high school career in the United States, Skal sprouted from a 6-2 guard to 7-feet tall, bringing his skills from the perimeter with him. Labissiere continued to work endlessly, which his idol, Kobe Bryant, imprinted on his mindset. Labissiere quickly started jumping up in the high school rankings and became Kentucky coach John Calipari’s first offer in the 2015 class.
In November 2014, Labissiere committed to the Wildcats, and his presence helped Calipari bring in the No. 1 recruiting class this year. Labissiere should see minutes immediately at either frontcourt position thanks to the departures of Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson.
Many feel Labissiere is one of the top three college prospects for the 2016 NBA Draft. At 7-0, 215 pounds with a 7-2 wingspan and great athleticism and quickness, Labissiere looks like a modern-day NBA big man with the versatility to play either frontcourt spot. Labissiere has excellent timing as a shot-blocker and a killer face-up game in the mid-range. His two-way ability at this stage is what gets scouts so excited despite the fact that he’s just 18 years old.
Skal doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses at this stage, either. Labissiere needs to add weight for the next level and beyond, especially in his lower body. It will be a tough task for Labissiere to handle the physicality initially, but he has time on his side and should improve. Labissiere missed his junior year of high school with a back injury, which is just something to monitor as he continues to grow into his body and put on weight.
It’s only a matter of time before Labissiere’s name is well known among college basketball fans. Labissiere is a rare big with two-way ability; he has the ability to stretch the floor combined with athleticism to defend on the perimeter and block shots. It might take him some time to adjust physically, but with the way Labissiere works, expect his game to impact millions just as the earthquake he endured in Haiti did five years ago.