The Skal Labissiere era effectively ended Tuesday afternoon, as Kentucky’s heavily hyped freshman announced plans to sign with an agent and enter the 2016 NBA Draft.
His brief run in Lexington began with an impressive hype train: A feature story in Sports Illustrated, preseason All-American honors and elite draft projections helped Kentucky snag No. 1 and No. 2 rankings in the major polls last November.
Both Labissiere and the Wildcats failed to live up to such lofty expectations.
The Haitian freshman lost his starting spot by January, and had to battle his way back into the lineup while Kentucky briefly slipped out of the Top 25.
A late-season run had some NCAA tournament prognosticators thinking the No. 4-seeded Wildcats were back in championship form, but they fell to No. 5-seeded Indiana in the second round last month.
Labissiere finished the season with averages of 6.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 36 games.
Labissiere thanked family, teammates, coaches and God Tuesday in his goodbye statement, while coach John Calipari showered praise on the 19-year-old.
“He is one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached,” Calipari said, according to the university. “On the basketball court, it took him and our staff a while to figure out how to best utilize him, but his improvement on that court over the year is why he is in this position to put his name in the draft and be projected in the middle of the lottery. His future is out ahead of him and I think in time he will be in the same breath as all of our big guys who have performed well in the NBA.”
Draft analysts expect Labissiere to be selected in the early-to-middle first round this June, with DraftExpress.com citing his “great size, terrific mobility, and a budding skill-level on both ends of the floor” as reasons for NBA teams to take a close look at him.
His departure follows that of shooting guard Jamal Murray, who held a press conference to make his draft declaration last Friday.
Point guard Tyler Ulis is expected to make a similar announcement this spring, while the rest of Calipari’s eligible Wildcats will also test the draft waters.