The Saga of Skal Labissiere

Posted on September 1, 2014

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By Travis Nauert

Labor Day weekend signals two cultural conventions. Summer is technically over. But, football is back.

Granted, Memphis has a strange relationship with football, especially college football. It is a melting pot with respect to fans. There will always be the local Tiger contingency, but before Dontari Poe was drafted in 2012 the most recent successful pro has been kicker Stephen Gostkowski; The days of Deangelo Williams rendered a distant childhood memory.

Drive around town and you will see schools from Texas to the Carolinas represented. SEC institutions are most visible with large state universities like Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee nearby.

But when it comes to basketball, Memphis is all about the hometown team. And the alter ego “Hoop City” is quite fitting. From high school to the college and professional levels, people take it seriously (even church and rec. leagues get heated). And while some celebrated Ole Miss pulling away from Boise State, and others Alabama handling West Virginia, it’s been the developments surrounding a consensus 5 star basketball recruit that are making local headlines.

Skal Labissiere’s second chance after surviving the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 is well documented. Now, he is on the verge of taking the next step in his basketball career. On August 12th, he announced via Twitter his final 6 college choices: Baylor, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
With the hometown Tigers well in the mix, it’s no wonder that people are taking interest. Scout, Rivals, and ESPN rate Labissiere the number 3, 4, and 11 overall prospect in the country respectively. Listed at 6’10” / 6’11” and somewhere between 200-215 pounds (depending on your recruiting source), the lengthy forward reaches the rim with ease, but possesses the skill and adroitness to make jump shots and block those of his opponents.

He just transferred to Lausanne Collegiate after three years at Evangelical Christian. The former happens to be the alma mater of one Marc Gasol.

However, because Labissiere participated in some off-season practices with ECS, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA for short) has denied him eligibility for his senior season. Consequently, alternatives are being considered.

Gerald Hamilton, his guardian, recently told the Commercial Appeal of a contingency plan to form a prep team independent of the TSSAA. This would allow Labissiere to play games against high schools in addition to home school teams. He could also graduate in December, and enroll in college a semester early.

Now, a different, more radical measure has emerged. Playing overseas.

In 2008, Brandon Jennings opted to sign with Italian side Lottomatica Roma, becoming the first American to go international in lieu of college ball. Jennings signed for a guaranteed $1.65 million. Subsequently, Under Armour sponsored him for an additional $2 million. Many thought this would become a trend, taking top talent away from American universities. Although this shift never really took place, it still remains an option for players facing financial or eligibility concerns. In mid July, SMU’s 2014 commitment Emmanuel Mudiay signed with a team in the Chinese Basketball Association for $1.275 million.

Speaking with CBSSports.com at the Las Vegas Classic, Labissiere said, “Overseas is an option. I don’t know yet for sure. We’ll see. But that is a lot of money.” Labissiere obviously took notice of Mudiay’s decision.

It’s difficult to predict what will happen next. While signing with an international club is intriguing, it takes a unique, strong personality to make that commitment. The money is attractive, but the transition to a foreign land with few, if any, friends could be daunting. But, it wouldn’t be the first time for Labissiere. He finds himself in Memphis after being trapped beneath the rubble that used to be his parents house in 2010.

For him, it may just be another stop in his journey to the NBA. The University of Memphis hopes Labissiere’s time in Hoop City lasts a little bit longer, even if it’s for only one season.

Click here for a look at his Summer Mixtape (and a smooth jam to go along with it).

Travis Nauert is a Memphis native who recently graduated from The University of Alabama. Read his coverage of the Memphis Grizzlies at http://www.bearsofbeale.wordpress.com

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Posted in: Sports, Tigers