Skal Labissiere was 13 when, while at his family home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck, sending the walls of his room crumbling down. One wall wound up leaned against a desk, trapping Labissiere underneath with his brother and mother. They were there for hours before finally being pulled out from the rubble, but Labissiere couldn’t feel his legs when he was freed. His legs were damaged to the point he had to teach himself to walk again after that, a process that took weeks. It was months before he felt normal again.

“It was definitely a hard time for me,” he said.

So Labissiere scoffs a bit when he hears he’s not tough enough, that the pressure of playing at Kentucky — where he arrived steeped in hype as a projected No. 1 or 2 pick — for his one season with the Wildcats was too much for him. He did not live up to lofty expectations (6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game this year), but he said that has nothing to do with toughness.

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“After everything I have been through,” he said, “coming from Haiti, the earthquake and everything, I really don’t think a lot of people can bounce back from that and keep a level head and stay grounded like I did. But I stayed grounded the whole year, even when things were not going my way. I never really talked back to coach or anything. But that’s why I think I am one of the toughest kids in the draft.”

Ahead of the pre-draft combine here on Chicago’s West Side, Labissiere held a private workout in which he showed deft shooting form. That’s created a lot of buzz around the Quest Multisport gym here, with suggestions that Labissiere has solidified himself as a top 10 pick again, and perhaps even top five. That would be a remarkable recovery for Labissiere’s draft stock.

But one league executive dampened that hype. “A guy makes shots in an empty gym?” the exec said. “That makes him top 10? I don’t think so. We know he is a pretty good shooter. I think he has a lot of potential. He could go in the lottery, and maybe top 10. But he has a lot to prove in workouts.”

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On Wednesday, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said he sees Labissiere as a mid-first-rounder, a risk worth taking once you get past the first 10 to 12 picks in this draft.

“Skal is a crapshoot kind of player,” Fraschilla said. “You love the length and athleticism. You love the fact that he made like probably 45 percent of his mid-range jump shots this year, a lot of pick-and-pop shots. He didn’t really show the range that he has at the NBA 3-point line and he doesn’t have the physical presence to really hold his ground in the low post.”

Labissiere said he lost weight over the course of the year at Kentucky, starting at 221 pounds and dropping to 212. He said he is up to 217 or 218 pounds now.

He also said he doesn’t necessarily see himself as trying to rebuild his draft stock, because, “We’re all at zero now.”

The hype that attended his arrival at Kentucky came from the outside, and he knew he would just have to deal with it. “It is what it is, I can’t really control that part,” he said. “I was just playing basketball, something I love to do. If it comes with it, that happens. I didn’t get frustrated with it, because I put more pressure on myself than other people put on me. I was probably overthinking everything.”

But he’s not sweating any of it now. Labissiere survived an earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000, and perhaps even more. He knows he is just lucky to be here. “It’s still kind of overwhelming thinking about it, to think about how far I have come,” he said. “It’s definitely a blessing from God. Without Him, I would not be here. To be here playing basketball and having a chance to go to the NBA, it has definitely been a blessing.”

Source: Sporting News – Author Sean Deveney 

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