Skal Labissiere has told the story often.
He was 13 years old when a 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, burying him under rubble in his home for hours as his father frantically tried to save him, his mother and younger brother.
Labissiere survived, but he had to learn how to walk again, he said, after being stuck in one position under the debris for so long. Months later, he moved to Memphis, Tenn., to live with his guardian, Gerald Hamilton, who had spoken with Labissiere’s father only days before the quake.
That (season at Kentucky was) the best thing that could have happened to me right there, a wake-up call.
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Hamilton runs Reach Your Dream, a nonprofit that brings talented international prospects to the United States. In Memphis, Labissiere became one of the top high school recruits in the country. When he entered Kentucky, he was touted as a top-five NBA draft pick. But after a modest freshman season – he averaged 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game – he dropped in last week’s draft to No. 28, where he was selected for the Kings by the Phoenix Suns, who sent their Nos. 13 and 28 picks to Sacramento for the No. 8 choice.
Considering what he overcame after being trapped in Haiti, waiting longer than expected to be drafted isn’t a huge obstacle.
The Kings introduced Labissiere, fellow first-round pick Georgios Papagiannis and second-round pick Isaiah Cousins on Monday at the team’s Experience Center near Golden 1 Center.
Labissiere wasn’t selected as high as Papagiannis (13th) nor did he have the impressive NCAA Tournament Cousins had with Oklahoma. But Labissiere’s story might be the most compelling. He failed to live up to expectations at Kentucky, but that just means he has more room to improve.
“I put pressure on myself,” Labissiere said. “And I’m looking forward to putting my name back out there. I think that (season at Kentucky was) the best thing that could have happened to me right there, a wake-up call. Now it’s just time to go to work.”
The 6-foot-11 Labissiere was rated the top high school center in the country in 2015 by Rivals and Scout, but he didn’t dominate as many recent Kentucky lottery picks had.
“I think it was a tough situation, but he played for a great coach (John Calipari),” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “And he alluded to it ... He said, ‘I went through a tough time, and I got tougher.’ ”
Still, Labissiere figured he would be a lottery pick. Instead, he nearly dropped out of the first round.
But he isn’t discouraged, pointing out that being drafted later is “definitely less pressure” and all he has to do is “prove myself.”
“I was kind of mad about that because I think I’m better than that, better than everybody in the draft,” Labissiere said. “But definitively (I have perspective). I was almost dead a few years ago. No big deal. Everyone has to start over. All the rookies have to start over.”
He will play more at power forward with the Kings and continue to build his slim 216-pound frame, while hoping for an opportunity to show his diverse skills that might not have been evident at Kentucky.
Labissiere said he can face up bigger players and will be better in the post as he gets stronger. And even though he attempted only two three-pointers in college, he said he has the ability to shoot from NBA three-point range.
I think it was a tough situation, but he played for a great coach (John Calipari). And he alluded to it ... He said, ‘I went through a tough time, and I got tougher.’
Kings coach Dave Joerger, on Skal Labissiere
When he seeks motivation, he can think about sitting at the draft at Barclays Center in New York much longer than he expected.
“I think the biggest thing for a player is a player’s confidence,” Joerger said. “You can use that for motivation and have a chip on your shoulder, awesome, but you can never lose your confidence. You’ve got to stay confident and get better, and I think his game may be better suited for pro basketball with the space.”
That means Labissiere will have plenty of room to prove his doubters wrong.
Watching the rookies
- What: NBA summer league
- Where: Las Vegas
- When: July 8-18
- Who: Draft picks, young players, free agents
- Kings schedule: July 8 vs. Toronto, July 10 vs. Houston, July 11 vs. New Orleans; Games 4 and 5 to be determined after seeding for tournament; championship is July 18
- TV: Most summer league games are broadcast by NBA TV, either live or taped