Skal Labissiere is the latest in a long line of NBA lottery prospects at Kentucky, but the 6-foot-11 phenom has been having trouble asserting himself on the floor.
He’s collected 3.4 personal fouls per game against just 3.9 rebounds, and has lost his offensive rhythm (eight points) over the past two contests.
Tuesday afternoon, coach John Calipari called out Labissiere and the rest of the Wildcats for lack of hustle.
“You’ve got to be able to rebound around that basket whether you’re Shaq or you’re Anthony Davis,” Calipari said. “Skinny, it doesn’t matter; you’re 7-foot tall; you’ve got to figure out how to go get balls.”
After Cal’s presser, Kentucky teammates Alex Poythress and Derek Willis went after the freshman, who often goes up against bigs who have 40 to 50 pounds on him.
“It’s hard, but he can’t use that as an excuse,” Poythress said. “He’s still got to go out there and do the things that need to be done … We’re trying to help him in practice, tell him what to do, tell him he needs to fight more, do this and that better. It just comes with time.”
The senior said Calipari has been running them a lot lately, and he can tell who fades at crucial times.
“Just playing, you just see who’s mentally tough and who lets go of the rope and probably doesn’t,” Poythress said.
Willis was gentler, but acknowledged that Labissiere has plenty of work to do.
“He’s not an overly physical player, which is fine because he’s still very talented,” Willis said. “But once he learns the physical play, I think it’s just going to help him.”
The junior forward noted that ex-Kentucky stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein had a physical presence that Labissiere lacks. This year’s bigs “take turns” beating up on Labissiere in practice to get him ready for games.
“It’s just one of those things where I think Skal is just not comfortable with it,” Willis said. “And we’re just trying to make him comfortable with it.”
No. 5 Kentucky (7-1) takes on Eastern Kentucky (8-2) at Rupp Arena on Wednesday (7 pm ET, ESPN2).