LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball fans probably will forgive national recruiting analyst Evan Daniels if he’s suppressed the very idea of Skal Labissiere in his brain. That was a weird deal for everybody.
During a 30-minute chat with SEC Country this week for “Everybody’s Superpod,” Daniels was asked to name the Wildcats’ most underachieving recruit in the John Calipari era, relative to Daniels’ high school evaluation of the prospect. There haven’t been many busts, so he was briefly stumped. What about Skal?
“Oh,” Daniels said. “Yeah, you know what, man? I’ll be honest with you: I try to (erase) that one from my memory. Because that’s probably, at least to this point, the biggest miss of my career.”
Daniels, director of basketball recruiting at Scout.com, had Labissiere rated the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2015. In one season at Kentucky, Labissiere averaged just 15.8 minutes, 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
“I’m going to defend myself for a second,” Daniels said. “Anybody that was at the Nike Hoop Summit after his senior year of high school left there thinking he was the guy. And he was not playing against bums. (Eventual No. 1 overall pick) Ben Simmons was there, a bunch of other dudes were there.”
Labissiere outshined them all. It’s true that Daniels was far from alone in his high opinion of the 6-foot-11 kid from Haiti who had a sweet jump shot. Rivals.com also ranked Labissiere the No. 1 player in the class, while ESPN and 247Sports had him No. 2. DraftExpress.com projected him to be the NBA’s top pick in 2016.
Several disappointing months later, Labissiere slid to 28th in the actual draft. He has played in just five NBA games and spent most of this season in the NBA Development League.
“I’ve spent hours trying to figure that one out,” Daniels said. “This is not an exact science. I’m going to get ones wrong, just as everyone else in this profession. But that one just — I think people sometimes think we slap rankings on these guys and move on, (but) I lose sleep over that one.”
Calipari probably does, too, considering he had arguably the nation’s best backcourt (Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe) last season but got bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament because of no real post presence.
“They were already good. If Skal was who we thought he was, they’re probably at the Final Four,” Daniels said. “And a part of me wishes Skal had stayed. He may have benefitted from another year in college. He’s a good case study. I’m curious to see how he turns out.”
There are other times when Daniels is happy to be wrong, when players outperform his early evaluation. Three former Kentucky players come to mind: Eric Bledsoe, Willie Cauley-Stein and Devin Booker.
Daniels ranked Bledsoe the 37th-best prospect in the Class of 2009, had Cauley-Stein 48th in the Class of 2012 and Booker 28th in the Class of 2014. Bledsoe ended up being drafted 18th overall, Booker 13th and Cauley-Stein 6th. The two guards are averaging more than 20 points per game in the NBA this season and Cauley-Stein has a National Defensive Player of the Year award in his trophy case.
“Knew Bledsoe was good. Had no idea he was this good,” Daniels said. “Devin Booker, he was a guy we always had ranked somewhere in the 20s, low-30s, and loved his ability to shoot. But he was always on AAU teams where he was kind of the only guy and he was forced to take bad shots and stuff like that, so sometimes it was a little hard to gauge him.
“(Cauley-Stein) was one that had me — I don’t want to say screwed up, but I had him ranked in the top 30, and then I saw him kind of late in his high school career and I moved him down in the low 40s. And I always kind of kick myself for that one. Like, man, I had it, I think I knew it, but then I screwed it up.”
Listen to our entire conversation with Evan Daniels, breaking down Kentucky’s entire 2017 recruiting class and a huge remaining target, and if you missed Episode 1 of “Everybody’s Superpod” with Jay Bilas, find every edition of SEC Country’s weekly Kentucky Wildcats basketball podcast right here.