Birthday Boy Labissiere Hoping to Build on NCAA Debut
DES MOINES, Iowa – Skal Labissiere celebrated his birthday Friday.
Well, he actually didn’t too much celebrating.
“I’m very chill and laidback,” Labissiere said. “I don’t really do anything on my birthdays. I don’t ask for a lot. I’m just very laidback.”
Outside of some calls and texts from family and friends, the only thing Labissiere expects to get is a batch of Ellen Calipari’s famous brownies. He’s watched his teammates enjoy them, but hasn’t yet had a taste of his own.
“I didn’t try them,” Labissiere said. “It was for them so I didn’t try to steal any. I was waiting for my turn.”
Upon UK’s return to Lexington on Saturday, Labissiere will have his turn to try Mrs. Cal’s brownies. On the court, Labissiere’s turn has already arrived.
The 6-foot-11 forward struggled through much of his freshman season, but flashed the skill and soft touch that landed him in the top two of the 2016 prospect rankings according to most recruiting services in UK’s final two regular-season games. Labissiere could have gone in the tank and stood aside as a spectator for the Wildcats’ March Madness run, but he never got discouraged, no matter how dark things seemed.
When things were at their worst, Labissiere put his head down, and not in a dejected sense.
“I’ve seen him get angry and frustrated,” Lee said. “That’s just the game of basketball. When you’re not doing the things that you’re normally able to do, you get frustrated. But when he gets frustrated he kept working. That’s why everything is working out well for him. Because he didn’t stop, he didn’t give up.”
He then faded into the background in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, leading some to wonder whether his emergence was merely a blip on the radar of a disappointing season.
But not his teammates.
“I don’t think so, because our team doesn’t let our players make huge steps back,” Marcus Lee said. “We know that if something goes wrong in a previous game that we need to push him harder in practice. That’s what we kind of do every day, so he’s always confident going into the next game.”
Labissiere was indeed all kinds of confident as UK opened the NCAA Tournament, embracing his matchup with Jameel Warney, Stony Brook’s bruising big man and the three-time America East Player of the Year.
“I just came ready to play, to be honest,” Labissiere said. “Did whatever the team needed me to do and that’s all.”
He had 12 points and four rebounds to go with a career-high six blocks as he anchored a UK defense that set the NCAA Tournament record for rejections in a game.
“It was huge offensively and defensively,” Lee said. “Defensively he played really well (Thursday). He got really huge stops and he got really huge rebounds and blocks (Thursday), which really puts him in a mentally focused way for the next game, where we need him to be.”
Labissiere, like Lee, closed the book quickly on his standout performance. For him, it’s on to Indiana.
“It was good, but it’s the past,” Labissiere said. “It’s in the past, so we are looking forward to playing this team tomorrow and we are most worried about ourselves."