By LARRY VAUGHT
Kenny Payne spent a lot of time Monday talking about freshman center Skal Labissiere, a player he works with daily in practice.
The UK assistant again said the coaches were not worried about his offense — he made two key shots at Kansas — but have to get him to fight more defensively and rebound.
“If he does that he’ll play as many minutes as he can handle. Really simple,” Payne said. “We want him to snatch the ball. We work on defensive rebounding drills every day. We work on offensive rebounding drills every day. He just has to go out and do it and have confidence in doing it. We practice it no different from the games.
“We’re not simulating a rebounding drill that’s half speed and the game is full speed. We’re simulating a game situation, go get that rebound, snatch it and bring it in. For whatever reason, the last two or three games we can’t get him to grab a ball.”
Payne said Labissiere is trying, but even in practice is not a consistent rebounder.
“I think it’s somewhat mental. I think he will get over it. I think it’s important that he gets over it because we need him on the floor and we need a guy that can block shots and a guy that can shoot the ball the way he can,” Payne said.
Labissiere sometimes is reluctant to make the initial contact and won’t attack like the UK coaches want him to do.
Tennessee has a small lineup, but Payne says that does not mean Labissiere can just suddenly improve his board work.
“ I think Tennessee’s a very scrappy team. They’re not very big, but they fight. They send four and five guys to the offensive glass at times. Our bigs, this is a game where they need to step up and play well, but one through five have to step up and rebound and defend and fight. At the end of the day, these games aren’t about strategy as much as they are about the will to win,” Payne said.
Payne admitted Labissiere is learning how to do the hard work necessary to succeed.
“Anthony (Davis) was thin as well, but Anthony embraced hard work. Not to say Skal doesn’t. Anthony thought he was 260 pounds. Karl Towns thought he was without a doubt the best big man in the country that could play multiple positions. This kid just doesn’t know it all yet. But he’s getting better, he’s learning and he’ll continue to learn,” Payne said.
“He’s making some shots, no question. I see him trying more. I see him trying better to do the little things that we need him to do. Trying to fight. We just need him to have a little better success. Not on the offensive end. It’s not about offense. It’s about defending, blocking shots, rebounding. The offense’ll come.”