By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Skal Labissiere had 11 points, three rebounds and three blocked shots in Thursday’s win at Auburn and now Kentucky fans are hoping that is the start of his resurgence after six weeks of being basically a no-show to use coach John Calipari’s terminology.
So what about Labissiere’s confidence now going into today’s game with Vanderbilt?
“Well the first shot he took, I looked and I went, ‘What?’ And it went in and I said, ‘It better have gone in.’ But I think it built his own confidence and he’s gotta—he’s got work to do,” Calipari said Friday. “There’s no question. He’s gotta keep going, but he’s worked in practice.
“He’s trying. He played 20 minutes in that game. That’s about the max right now he can play with the condition that he has. And he’s working on it, but when he is tired he just stops. Like, can’t catch a ball, can’t rebound a ball, can’t fight. He cannot be in the game tired. He’s now learning: Just take myself out. Why fight it and look foolish and take away my own confidence. Just come out, which is what he did, in that game.
“He subbed himself two or three times. First time. The other times, you gotta sub him. You just gave up four rebounds, two dunks and lost two balls in the post. Can’t be in. Now he’s playing. I make a shot, I grab a rebound, I’m exhausted, get me out. Boom. Alright, you ready to go back? He’s learning.
“My biggest thing for all these kids: You gotta lose yourself in the team. What does the team need you to do? What is your role on this team? And they’re starting to get it.”
After Thursday’s win, Labissiere said three solid days of practice had helped him.
“We’ve been going at each other and I think practices, they’ve been harder than the game tonight. We’ve been going at each other and that helped a lot,” Labissiere said. “Going into the game, I was a lot more confident because I had a good past three days. Not just me, but as a team.
“Going into the game I was very confident about what I was going to do out there, which was just playing hard and make sure I catch everything Tyler threw at me or Jamal. That was a big difference. I just played hard. That was the main thing.”
Teammate Derek Willis said he had seen Labissiere in high school and even played against him, so he knew what the freshman could do.
“I knew he was a very talented big man. He’s progressed so much from high school to now, and even a week ago to now. So all he has to do is keep bringing intensity and keep being the aggressor and just play hard. Those things just fall in line. So that’s all you have to do and it’ll be straight,” Willis said.