Skal Labissiere looks different as he prepares for his second NBA season.
Gone is the rookie who was instructed by the training staff to eat everything in sight to add weight to his slight frame. Now he’s looking more like a player who can rightfully call himself a “power” forward.
“We buffed him up pretty good last year, and by the end of the first week he was back (slim),” Kings coach Dave Joerger joked. “But he’s buffed up and he’s kept it throughout summer league and all the running. During the season you’re going to get smaller but he’s keeping that strength on.”
That’s not all that’s different about Labissiere, who is listed at 6-foot-11 and 225 pounds. The second-year pro said he’s “refreshed” thanks to a trip to his native Haiti in July. Labissiere had not been to the island in seven years since he came to the United States following a devastating earthquake.
He called the trip, which included a basketball camp that also emphasized life skills, “my highlight of the summer.”
“It was a reminder that you have to be thankful,” said Labissiere, whose Twitter handle is “OneBigHaitian.” “Going back and seeing how people were living there and just seeing I can make a big difference out there.”
He said it was “crazy” to return as adult and feel the love from children who now look up to him. He also reunited with people he had not seen since leaving for U.S. and becoming one of the top basketball prospects in the country at Kentucky.
“I’ve always had a different perspective, but it was a good reminder,” Labissiere said.
The trip was so invigorating, he’s already looking forward to returning. It won’t take seven years next time.
“I’m already thinking about next summer,” Labissiere said. “What we can do better next year, as far as the camp goes and how we can give back to the community out there.”
Labissiere spent most of his rookie season with the Reno Bighorns of the G-League before the trade of DeMarcus Cousins set the franchise into a full rebuilding mode and gave young players more playing time. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 25 games after the trade.
The added strength will help him deal with matchups in the paint that were tough last season.
“I’m still getting to know the NBA,” he said. “I’m going into my second year but I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”
Joerger understands there’s still a learning curve for Labissiere. He was patient with the rookie through last season’s ups and downs and knows there will be more to come.
“He won’t be a finished product this year either,” Joerger said. “It’s three, whatever number of years from now, when he fills into his body completely.”
Labissiere had some big scoring games, like his career-high 32 points in a win at Phoenix on March 15, but there were also nights when his minutes and production were low.
Those games visibly bothered Labissiere. Yes, the Kings were rebuilding (tanking was not a word they used), but Labissiere wanted to win. He learned how to play through offensive struggles.
“Just do other things,” Labissiere said. “If the ball is not going in, rebound, block shots, just keep playing hard. At the end of the day, for me, I don’t worry about the (shooting) results. I’m just going to play hard and leave it all out there. And it forces me to work hard, too. I’m trying to be one of those players that has it going every night. Just be more consistent and put in a lot of work.”
Labissiere’s work ethic and sturdier frame have Joerger’s attention.
“He’s done a lot of work this summer,” Joerger said. “He works, stays after, he wants to be good. We can say that about a lot of guys, but he really wants to be good. He’s put a lot of time in it and hopefully it shows.”