Labissiere Holds Grand Aspirations for Career

From picking up the game of basketball at 12 to making his NBA debut just eight years later, Kings rookie Skal Labissiere has carried a one-of-a-kind work ethic throughout his journey.
by Shahbaz Khan
Managing Editor, Digital

It’s 2006 in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and a taller-than-usual 10-year-old is dominating the volleyball courts at school. Skal Labissiere is a natural. With size and skill, the young boy spends his time between the volleyball court and the soccer field. Despite his admiration for both sports, the competition never progressed past the likes of inter-school practices and friendly matches.

Finally, at the age of 12, thanks to a suggestion by his mother, the Haiti native started learning the game of basketball. The size was already there – Skal stood at 6-foot-5 - but Labissiere needed to pick up the fundamentals quickly. Fortunately, as he’s proved time and time again, he’s a fast learner.

Skal attended a school with over 2,000 students. And in order to stay and play on one of its two outdoor basketball courts, Skal’s pickup teams had to win. If they didn’t, he’d have to stand on the sidelines and watch, waiting for the next opportunity. It’s on these courts that Labissiere’s skills quickly developed and he joined his school’s basketball team within the same year he began learning the game.

In what turned from an admiration to a passion, the young Haitian studied the style of former Lakers great Kobe Bryant – one of the few NBA teams whose contests would air in Haiti. Rain or shine, Labissiere and his brother would take to the courtyard at his home and attempt to replicate Bryant’s patented pump fake, fadeaways and more.

“I used to tell my friends I’d make the NBA back when I was in Haiti and they’d laugh,” No. 3 told “They would laugh, but I knew that I had it in me.”

Unfortunately, Labissiere’s dream of making it to the League was put on pause as the devastating earthquake of 2010 hit his home country. Labissiere recounted the experience firsthand via the Players Tribune, sharing that for several weeks following the quake, the young prospect was unable to walk, fearful he wouldn’t be able to play basketball again.

However, by August 2010, seven months following the earthquake, Labissiere moved to the United States and was playing high school basketball in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite speaking very little English upon his arrival, the new stateside resident became fluent in the language after four months. During his freshman year, Labissiere was averaging nearly 18 points and nine rebounds per game on the school’s varsity squad.

“In high school, when everyone was eating lunch, I’d stay back and be watching film,” Skal said.

The efforts paid off as Labissiere showed out during the summer of his senior campaign. He caught the attention of many at the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan Brand Classic, playing alongside the likes of many future NBA draftees, including Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, Thon Maker and Brandon Ingram.

Fast forward to 2016 and all five became first-round selections. Now a 6-foot-11, 225-pound forward who showcased shooting touch and defensive abilities, Labissiere went 28th overall. In his first taste of pro action during the 2016 Samsung NBA Summer League, No. 3 averaged 11 points and nearly six rebounds in five appearances.

While the totals put him among the leaders on the team, the 20-year-old forward came out of Las Vegas motivated to transform himself.

“Next time you see me, you’ll see a different Skal,” the rookie told media following one particular Summer League contest.

Labissiere kept his word – working with Kings Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ramsey Nijem day in and day out to prepare his body for the rigors of the NBA season.

“Before Summer League ended, Skal actually texted me his entire schedule for the following two months up until Training Camp,” Nijem said. “He let me know he was ready to work…he’s a guy who really bought in early and let me know he wanted to work. He’s proven that thus far.”

The work Labissiere put in during those two months was exhaustive and extensive. But most importantly, it was as transformative as Labissiere promised during the summer circuit.

“From Summer League to Training Camp alone, he put on eight to 10 pounds,” the head strength and conditioning coach shared. “He’s just really bought in and I think it’s showing.”

It’s no surprise that the man who learned the game just eight years ago has progressed so rapidly, as Labissiere’s work ethic is a trait he takes with serious pride. From coaches to team staff, No. 3’s determination to improve has been notable, especially to Nijem.

“He’s just a guy that wants it,” Nijem said. “He’s not content and he’s not just happy to be here. He views it as a milestone and he wants to be a guy that makes an impact. He brings that mindset everyday when he comes in…he’s a guy that’s showing it through his work ethic and through what he’s saying to us, the support staff and the coaches. He wants to be in this League a long time and he wants to make an impact in it. He’s developing really good habits now as a rookie that will carry him through the rest of his career.”

The dream Labissiere set out for himself in Haiti was realized on June 23, 2016 during the NBA Draft. But to Labissiere, it was just one of the milestones among many the rookie has laid out for himself. Another came to fruition on Nov. 5, 2016 as the Kentucky product recorded his first pro minutes versus Thon Maker, a former high school opponent turned Milwaukee Buck.

Labissiere took a moment to greet his old friend at the scorer’s table, marveling at how far the two have come.

“We’re here,” Labissiere said. He went on to score his first NBA basket on an and-one opportunity and finished the game with eight points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.

It marked the first of what Skal hopes to be many nights in the Association. At its conclusion, Nijem recounted an in-game message Labissiere had for him.

“A running joke that I have with the rooks that I stole from our Director of Security, Hakeem Sylver, is when I tell them ‘Elias doesn’t know you’,” said Nijem, referring to the famed sports bureau that tracks all of the NBA’s key statistics. “After Skal scored his first basket in the Milwaukee game, he comes up to me and says ‘Elias knows me now.’”

As Labissiere has proven throughout his life, when set to accomplish a goal, he does it. With the Haitian’s strong work ethic, we’re guessing Elias is going to get to know the 20-year-old pretty well throughout his career.

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