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 Rivals.com, 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.”

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.