clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

John Calipari says Skal Labissiere 'behind' as he adjusts to college basketball

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky head coach John Calipari isn't afraid to be brutally honest about his team, especially when they're struggling.

The Wildcats' latest underwhelming performance came in a 75-63 win over Illinois State, a game which was tied at halftime as the Redbirds gave the Cats all they could handle. A big reason for that was Skal Labissiere failing to make an impact on while finishing 0-of-1 shooting with two points (2-of-2 on free throws), one block and two boards in 16 minutes Monday night.

Calipari said Labissiere "really gave us nothing the whole game," but isn't worried about it just yet since it's still fairly early in the season. Freshmen like Skal are still learning and getting their feet under them as they adjust to college basketball.

"The thing about elite athletes and world-class athletes, they can evaluate their performance and say, all right, I got to fix this," Cal said. "They self-evaluate and that's what this team needs to do."

It wasn't just Skal struggling to do anything as he wasn't getting a lot of chances to make plays on the offensive end. With Tyler Ulis out, UK's other guards couldn't pass the ball as well and pass the ball to Skal while in good position to make a play. At the same time, Skal didn't fight hard enough to get open, something Cal was critical of after the game.

"He couldn't catch it. We were trying to go to him," Cal said. "As a matter of fact, I told guys, 'If he's open and you don't throw it to him, you're coming out.'"

"That’s where he is right now, and it’s OK. He’s not figured some of this stuff out. He’s not figured how to play lower than the other guy. He’s not figured out that, ‘I gotta move my feet and quit grabbing people.’

"But that’s OK. He is a really good player who is behind."

Another Wildcat who knows that experience is junior forward Marcus Lee. It's taken him nearly three years to finally become an impact player for the Cats, and he's also watched other great UK players struggle early on in their careers.

"He’s learning. That’s the way it is in college," Lee said of Skal. "He’ll find that it’s just one game, one day. We’re not football. Football plays 12 games at max for the season; we play 40 or 30, so we’ll play in two or three days.

"He knows to just rub it off and keep going. He’ll be ready next game and he’ll probably practice extremely hard (Tuesday). He’ll figure it out."

At this point, it's far too early to worry about Skal being a little behind in his development. If anything, it can benefit the Wildcats as they learn how to win games when Skal isn't playing well. While the freshman big man may end up being their best player, if UK ends up playing six games in the NCAA Tournament as their goal is, he's going to have an off night somewhere in there.

How well guys like Isaiah Brisco, Jamal Murray and even role-players like Lee, Charles Matthews, Derek Willis, and Dominique Hawkins play in those instances will be the difference in how far this team is able to go in March and hopefully into April.