It might be too early to market "Free Skal" T-shirts, but it seems time to wonder if star freshman Skal Labissiere will play a full 2015-16 season for Kentucky.
Among those concerned about Labissiere's eligibility is ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.
"I always worry about that," Vitale said Friday. "Because he would be a major, major loss. The area (the Wildcats) need all the help they can get is the size up front."
As Labissiere's guardian, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed last week, the NCAA has not yet determined whether the player will be eligible this coming season. The NCAA is asking "a few questions," Hamilton told ESPN.com. He did not specify the nature of the questions. Amateurism (improper benefits) and academics (high school grades) are the two main areas that affect freshman eligibility.
UK Coach John Calipari and Labissiere have expressed confidence that he will be eligible and play.
In the last two years, the recruiting world speculated about Labissiere's eligibility. Keith Easterwood, a former AAU coach based in Memphis, told CBSSports.com last November that Hamilton had asked him how to "make money off a basketball player."
Suddenly, the idea of another freshman big man, Isaac Humphries, being a Plan B for Kentucky's front line took on an added dimension. Earlier this pre-season, Calipari said UK wanted Humphries, in part, as insurance in case forward Alex Poythress did not make a full recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Now, the questions about Labissiere make Humphries seem like security in case the NCAA denies or limits his eligibility.
Calipari has likened Humphries to Josh Harrellson, the relatively less-heralded big man who anchored UK's 2011 Final Four team.
"If he's Josh Harrellson, that's not a bad player," Vitale said of Humphries. "They need size badly."
One question hanging over UK's Big Blue Madness Friday and other pre-season activities (Blue-White Game on Oct. 27; exhibition games against Ottawa and Kentucky State) is whether Labissiere will participate.
After the first day of classes, an incoming student-athlete who has not been cleared by the NCAA's Eligibility Center cannot receive financial aid or participate in practices or competition. However, in some cases, waivers are available for athletes to receive aid and practice while determinations are made about eligibility.
Spokesman Eric Lindsey said the UK athletics department will follow its policy and not comment on any player's eligibility until the first regular-season game on Nov. 13.
Meanwhile, NCAA rules say a player in eligibility limbo must gain a waiver to participate in a Midnight Madness show, an intra-squad scrimmage like the Blue-White Game and a pre-season exhibition.
Recent history sends a mixed message. In 2009, John Wall played in UK's Big Blue Madness, the Blue-White Game and one exhibition game while awaiting an eligibility decision. In 2010, Enes Kanter remained on the sideline and ultimately never put on a UK uniform.
When asked about Wall and Kanter, Lindsey said in an email, "Every case is different, and depending on what stage each young man was at during that time, we followed the appropriate rules."
Questions about amateurism jeopardized the eligibility of Wall and Kanter.
The NCAA ordered Wall to repay less than $800 in recruiting-related expenses he received from Brian Clifton, the player's summer coach and a certified agent. Wall then regained his eligibility after serving a two-game suspension (one exhibition game and the opening game of the 2009-10 season).
With Kanter, the NCAA ruled he received $33,033 more than the necessary expenses permitted while playing three seasons for a professional team in his native Turkey. While entrepreneurial minds produced "Free Enes" T-shirts, the NCAA ultimately ruled the player permanently ineligible.
Like Labissiere, Kanter was projected as a lottery pick in the next NBA Draft and considered indispensable to a UK front court depleted by early entries in the previous year's NBA Draft.
Coincidentally, none other than Harrellson himself figured prominently in the Kanter eligibility drama.
"I'll give up my senior season for him to play," Harrellson said in that preseason five years ago. "If the NCAA would allow that, I'd give it to him. I know how good he is and how much more good he can do for the team than I would do."
Ultimately, Harrellson served UK's needs nicely, if not as well as Kanter might have.
Of course, this year's best-case scenario for Kentucky would be for the indispensable big man (Labissiere) and the Harrellson insurance policy (Humphries) to both contribute.
That will be determined by the NCAA's Eligibility Center.
From 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday evening, ESPNU will televise what Kentucky is calling its "Pro Day." This is ... what? A two-hour workout that NBA officials find greatly valuable? A two-hour UK infomercial that reminds the next wave of prospects that UK makes NBA dreams come true? A made-for-TV show that enables ESPNU to fill a two-hour window and sell advertisements?
Seth Greenberg, who will work the telecast for ESPNU, said it provides a "terrific baseline."
But Chad Ford, an ESPN analyst who specializes in the NBA Draft, said such an event is not as popular with the pros as it might seem.
"I get all the whining (from NBA people)," he said after last year's so-called NBA Combine at UK. "I can't tell you how many told me. '(NBA bosses) want us at it. It would be embarrassing not to go.'"
UK put many NBA prospects on display last year. The combine "didn't affect anybody's draft stock at all," Ford said.
Ford's opinion remained unchanged when reached last week. "I would say, look, there is practice and there is a public practice of a combine like that," he said. "They're a little different. ... I'd say some scouts do love to get into practices where, like, they're the only scout in there. And they feel it's an authentic real practice."
The idea of "Pro Day" being free advertisement for UK basketball drew no objection.
"It's brilliant marketing for new recruits," Ford said.
Jay Williams, the former Duke star who will work the ESPNU telecast, likened it to Mike Krzyzewski using his position as Team USA coach to his advantage.
"People are looking for different ways to find their edge," Williams said.
During last year's telecast, Jay Bilas scoffed at the notion of a two-hour UK infomercial being an unfair advantage. Williams agreed, saying, "You tell me what's really fair in life. You tell me what viewers want to see."
LSU will stage a similar event on Tuesday and Wednesday. As of early last week, no television coverage had been arranged, spokesman Kent Lowe said. But the event, titled "open practices," will coincide with LSU's media day, so its value as news and promotion can be maximized.
As for UK's Pro Day, Greenberg said the telecast will be similar to last year's. There will be a College GameDay panel discussing basketball at UK, in the SEC and around the country. UK Coach John Calipari will join the panel to schmooze.
"You've got to fill two hours," Greenberg said. "So there's a lot to it. You can't just watch drills for two hours."
UK Coach Lou Holtz?
In case anyone took UK Coach John Calipari's " We-stink" declaration seriously, ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale had a word of advice: Don't.
Calipari offered the smelly assessment of UK's team during his remarks at the annual Tip-Off Luncheon last week. This greatly amused Vitale.
"If u believe @UKCoachCalipari, I have some fab real estate I want to sell u," he tweeted.
Then in a follow-up phone conversation, Vitale elaborated.
"Oh, jeez!" he said. "Oh, my God! Oh, c'mon! Lou Holtz is coaching at Kentucky! Lou Holtz has come back as a basketball coach at the University of Kentucky!"
As the football coach at such schools as Arkansas, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Holtz became synonymous with woe-is-me poor-mouthing.
"There wasn't anybody they could beat," Vitale said of Holtz's signature assessments. "Cal, c'mon now. Every team in America would like to stink like Kentucky. Every team in America would like to go to practice and look at Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, Skal Labissiere."
Cameron Mills was among the former UK players who signed autographs at the 2015 Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville last week.
An enthusiastic fan thanked him for the memories.
"I'll never forget you," the fan told Mills. "I was in Tampa when you made that shot."
That was a reference to the clutch three-pointer Mills made late in UK's come-from-behind victory over Duke in the 1998 South Region finals.
With that, the fan said, "Thanks, Bill."
Mills smiled, then laughed as he told reporters of the encounter.
He said another fan at the luncheon complimented him on being "a great ambassador for London, Ky."
Uh, one of Mills' former UK teammates, Jeff Sheppard, lives in London.
To Reggie Hanson. He turned 47 on Thursday. ... To Mark Krebs. He turned 29 on Saturday. ... To Mike Ballenger. He turns 53 Sunday (today). ... To Matt Scherbenske. He turns 28 on Wednesday. ... To Dave Odom. The former South Carolina coach turned 73 on Friday. ... To Wade Houston. The former Tennessee coach turned 71 on Friday.