Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.


NBA Gameday: Skal, Kings close home slate against Suns

NBA Gameday: Skal, Kings close home slate against Suns

SACRAMENTO -- With the 2016-17 campaign nearing a conclusion, the Sacramento Kings close down the inaugural season at Golden 1 Center Tuesday evening against the Phoenix Suns.

The Kings have dropped two straight, but they made a game of it Sunday against the Houston Rockets. Seven players scored in double figures for Sacramento, including 25 from rookie Skal Labissiere and an impressive 20-point, 11-assist performance from veteran point guard Ty Lawson.

Phoenix has rattled off two straight wins after dropping the previous 13 games. Like the Kings, they have turned to their young core down the stretch, featuring eight players 24-years-old or younger. Rookies Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss start alongside 20-year-old budding star Devin Booker and young bigs Alex Lin and T.J. Warren.


Kings by 4.5


Kings: 31-49, third place Pacific

Suns: 24-57, fifth place Pacific


Skal Labissiere vs. Marquese Chriss: The Rematch -- Labissiere came off the Kings bench and dropped a career-high 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting and added 11 rebounds in less than 30 minutes of action the last time these two faced off. Chriss shot 6-of-14 from the field for 17 points and added seven rebounds and five blocks in 32 minutes, but he was clearly overshadowed. These two will have plenty of battles against one another over the next decade in the NBA.


Kings: Arron Afflalo, Tyreke Evans and Kosta Koufos are out (rest), and Darren Collison (migraine headache) is also out.

Suns:  C Tyson Chandler and PG Eric Bledsoe shut down for the remainder of the season. PG Brandon Knight (back spasms) out, Leandro Barbosa (hamstring) out.


Sacramento leads the season series between these two teams 2-1 after beating the Suns on their home floor 107-101 last month. Phoenix leads the all-time series 131-89 and they hold an 84-50 advantage during the Sacramento-era.


“There’s a level of experience that you have to have. They’re playing at a doctoral thesis level and here is a young guy in his first year and you’re trying to spit some words out of what coverage we should be in and it just takes experience. It’s not that they’re trying to mess up - they are trying to do the best they can.” -Dave Joerger on his young club following the loss to Houston

Kings learn another lesson in loss to Rockets

Kings learn another lesson in loss to Rockets

SACRAMENTO -- Every game is another opportunity for the Sacramento Kings’ young players to learn. The Kings fell behind by as many as 22 to the high-powered Rockets Sunday afternoon, but they kept fighting. In the end, the playoff bound team from Houston was too much to handle as they came away with the 135-128 victory. 

After playing against a bull in Julius Randle Friday in Los Angeles, rookie Skal Labissiere drew a completely different style of player Sunday at Golden 1 Center. Sacramento native Ryan Anderson torched the rookie in the opening 6:18 of the first quarter, dropping in a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc.

“There’s a level of experience that you have to have,” coach Dave Joerger said of Labissiere. “They’re playing at a doctoral thesis level and here is a young guy in his first year and you’re trying to spit some words out of what coverage we should be in and it just takes experience.”

“It’s not that they’re trying to mess up - they are trying to do the best they can,” Joerger added. 

Joerger went to his bench quick, turning to veteran Anthony Tolliver to stem the tide. When he turned back to Labissiere in the second quarter, the rookie big looked like a completely different player.

Labissiere dropped in 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in second, helping the Kings avoid the early blowout.

“I was impressed as I always am with him, but he kept attacking offensively,” Joerger said. “If you want to take me out in the deep water and shoot these jumpers, then let’s try to get you down here in the posit. I think he was aggressive.”

The rookie forward continued to plug away in the second half, finishing the night with a team-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He added six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 31 minutes of action. 

“It’s just learning how to adjust,” Labissiere said. “You play different guys in the league. Guys in the NBA are talented so you’ve just got to figure out how to guard people, make it hard for them at least.”

Labissiere’s experience was a microcosm of the Kings night. Buddy Hield faced off with MVP candidate James Harden and came out on the wrong end of the stat sheet. The rookie shooting guard started off hot, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. And then the Rockets made adjustments, limiting Hield to 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.

Harden found a way to keep all of the Kings’ guards off balance, scoring 35 points, handing out 15 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds on his way to his 21st triple-double of the season.

“You learn a lot,” Hield said of the experience. “He’s super talented. One of the best in the league. One of the best scorers. One of the best passers. He’s just one of the best offensive players in the league.”

Willie Cauley-Stein played well, scoring 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. With his guards on skates most of the night trying to stay in front of the Rockets’ guards, big man Clint Capella shot 8-of-8 from the field, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of play. 

“Even veteran teams struggle playing against that kind of system and what they’re doing to the rest of the league right now,” Joerger said. “It was a good experience for our guys, and we never quit. We played hard all the way through and I’m proud of our guys for that.”

Sacramento received plenty of contributions from their veterans. Ty Lawson scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists. He broke down the Rockets defense and set up his teammates for easy baskets.

Ben McLemore shook off a tough start to score 18 points on 3-of-7 shooting from long range. Garrett Temple added 13 points and Langston Galloway chipped in 10 off the bench in the loss.

The Kings return to the court Tuesday when they finish up their home schedule against the Phoenix Suns. They’ll face a young, but athletic Suns team that has strung together back-to-back wins after dropping 13 straight.