Everyone expected Skal Labissiere to not only be one of the best freshmen in college basketball this season, but possibly one of the best overall players.
Well, it's safe to say the 6-10 forward is nowhere close to that, and it's time to take a big step back as to what to expect from him this season. Going into last Saturday's clash with Arizona State, Skal was averaging 11.8 points, 3.9 boards and 2.2 blocks in 22.6 minutes per game while netting just 18 points and seven boards over his last three games.
Against the Sun Devils, Skal had what probably will be his worst game as a college player, simply because it may not be possible to be any worse than 0 points and 0 rebounds before fouling out in just 13 minutes.
Karl-Anthony Towns knows what it's like to struggle early in your first college season. The eventual No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, scored under 10 points in seven of his first 11 games while grabbing less than nine boards in eight of his first 11 games as a freshman at Kentucky last season. He went on to average nearly a double-double over the final two months of the season before becoming the top pick in this year's draft, and he's not worried about Skal's early-season struggles just yet.
"Oh, he'll be fine, don't worry about it," Towns said Wednesday, via Zags Blog.
Towns isn't the only former UK big man speaking out on Skal's struggles. Sam Bowie knows what it's like to play at Kentucky with an immense amount of pressure being placed upon him. Simply put, Skal has to play the game with the confidence he's the best player on the floor and no one can stop him.
"He’s got to know he’s the best thing on the court," Bowie said, via Kentucky.com. "You have to go out there with that mentality."
Fellow UK great Kenny "Sky" Walker said that a low-post player like Skal has to be "a blue-collar worker" while being ready for a fight.
"You have to understand that in the paint you’re going to be hit with elbows," Walker said. "It’s going to hurt. There’s going to be nights you might get your nose bloody. It’s not fair. It’s not right. But that’s part of basketball.
"Once you figure out it’s going to hurt a little bit, but it’s not going to kill you. You’ve got elbows. You can push back and you can fight back."
Former Duke All-American and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas points out how Skal's slender frame (6-11, 225 lbs) and lack of bulk isn't necessarily an excuse to not be a force in the paint, but strength is.
"I don’t think bulk is necessary," said Bilas. "But you’ve got to have strength. You’ve got to have lower body strength, so you can hold your position.
"It’s not how much he weighs or how bulky he is. It’s how strong he is, and right now he’s not strong enough. What that means is he can’t afford to get into wrestling matches. He’s going to have to use his speed and quickness to counter that. It’s not like Kentucky and other programs haven’t had skinny players."
Kentucky all-time leading scorer Dan Issel did most of his damage in the paint, and he sees clear as day what's hindering Skal thus far.
"Instead of bodying up against somebody and keeping that physical contact, he kind of stands," Issel said. "His legs are straight. Then he bends over from the waist, and his hands are out. That’s why he gets in foul trouble because he’s trying to play defense with his hands rather than with the body."
But Issel also knows becoming a great player doesn't happen as quick as fans want it to, and everyone needs to be patient with Skal's development.
"There’s no doubt in my mind he can do it," Issel said. "He has all the talent in the world. … I think he’s going to be fine. It’s not something you learn overnight."
It's still too early to worry that Skal isn't going to get to where he needs to be for UK to be a Final Four contender, but he needs to start showing progress in the coming weeks with semester finals ending and Skal getting more time to dedicate to improving his craft.
Oh, and Camp Cal will certainly aid in his development. If UK opens the second semester with Skal still struggling, that's when it might be time to worry.