Kelly Kline/Under Armour

Top ten prospect Skal Labissiere still battling back from back injury

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Skal Labissiere’s junior season at Evangelical Christian School (TN) did not quite go as planned.

The 6-foot-10 Haitian center left the second game of his high school season with a back injury that turned out to be a stress fracture in the L5 vertebrae in his spine. He didn’t return to the court until an AAU tournament in April and still isn’t back to being in the kind of shape that he wants to me in.

“I feel good, but I’m still out of shape,” Labissiere said at the NBPA Top 100 camp last week. “My [knee] tendonitis was gone but now it’s back because I was sitting out for four months. But I’m getting back in the flow.”

“”My timing is still off a little bit, explosiveness is gone. I’m working on getting it back.”

Labissiere says he learned a hard lesson from the injury: proper rest is just as important as a tenacious work ethic.

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“I didn’t take care of myself,” he said. “I worked too hard and I failed to rest. I just had all that weight up here, it wasn’t good for my back. Over time, from running, lifting weights, jumping around.”

Labissiere is currently the No. 6 prospect in the Class of 2015, according to, but he clearly wasn’t himself during the camp, finishing with averaged of just 8.4 points, 1.8 boards and 1.2 blocks in five games. He blocked a couple of shots and showed off the range that makes him such an intriguing prospect, but it was clear that Labissiere was not playing his best basketball.

But that’s understandable. Remember, Labissiere is still just a rising high school senior that was already a work in progress before he had to sit out for four months. That’s a big stretch of time during one of the most important development periods for a young athlete.

The good news for Labissiere is that he realizes there is a lot of work to be done before the July live periods kick off in two weeks.

“I have to strengthen my core, get back into shape, get back to full health, and get back into my rhythm,” he said. “I’m ready for it. I sat out for four months.”

As of now, Labissiere is taking the recruiting process slowly. Memphis, the city he currently calls home after fleeing Haiti when the earthquake struck in 2010, and Mississippi are the only schools that he has visited, but Kentucky has shown as much interest as anyone, including the program in his hometown. Labissiere was the first player Kentucky offered in the Class of 2015. Kansas and Tennessee have also reportedly offered Labissiere, while he mentioned that North Carolina, UNLV and Florida have started to show some interest as well.

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But the recruiting process is not what’s on the forefront of Labissiere’s mind right now. Recovering from his stress fracture is, and he says that the back injury suffered by former Kansas center Joel Embiid back in February has actually motivated him.

“It kind of encouraged me, to be honest,”Labissiere said. (Full disclosure: this interview took place before the news broke that Embiid had fractured his foot.) “Because I saw what he did and how he got back. I saw his workouts and he looked good.”

“When I was sitting out, I just had to get rest. When I came back, I worked out for a pretty long time. I gained some weight, but that actually helped out. At first I was disappointed, but it actually turned out kind of well. Resting my body for playing so many games during the summer.”

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.