BENTON — It hasn't been a smooth start to the season for top UK recruit Skal Labissiere.
The 6-foot-11 prospect struggled through pre-season workouts at Memphis-area Evangelical Christian School with a nagging back injury. ECS Coach Terry Tippett said Labissiere's back would start hurting, then get better, then get worse again.
He was good to go for last month's season opener, tallying 35 points and 16 rebounds in an ECS victory. That's the only complete game he's played so far.
Labissiere left his next game because of the injury and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture in his spine. Tippett said his star player will be sidelined 6-8 weeks.
"It is the kind of thing that you heal fully from," Tippett told the Herald-Leader. "It's not a lingering, lifelong thing — if you don't come back too soon. And we aren't going to push him back too soon."
Labissiere was scheduled to play in this weekend's Marshall County Hoop Fest in Benton, Ky. He obviously would have missed that game even if it hadn't been cancelled because of weather. ECS is scheduled to play at the McCracken County Festival of Hoops in Paducah next month, but Tippett doesn't know whether Labissiere will be back by then.
He won't return until he's 100 percent healthy. Tippett said the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Scout.com ranks Labissiere as the No. 5 overall prospect in the junior class. A 6-11 player who shoots well from long range and has great defensive instincts, he's already seen as a top professional prospect.
College coaches are certainly interested.
Tippett said that coaches from Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, Georgetown and Baylor have all stopped by the high school in recent weeks to check out Labissiere, who was the first player from the Class of 2015 to receive a scholarship offer from UK. John Calipari last visited in September.
The main knock on Labissiere so far in his career has been his lanky frame, which has allowed bigger players to push him around in the paint. Tippett said Labissiere worked hard in the off-season with weightlifting, putting on 15 pounds in the process.
He's not able to continue those activities while he recovers from his back injury.
"He was getting stronger. You could tell he looked bigger," Tippett said. "He's upset mainly because he's going to lose all of his conditioning and all of the weightlifting that he did."
Labissiere isn't letting his frustration show. The affable high school junior usually has a smile on his face, and that hasn't changed despite his current setback.
"He's taking it great," Tippett said. "He misses basketball, but he's come to every practice, come to every game. He'll come to practice and run the clock. He's just a good teammate. He's just a good kid. It speaks so much to his character. He's just as good a kid as you can find."
The Hoop Fest will now consist of seven games Saturday, starting at noon Central Time with UK signee Trey Lyles and Arsenal Tech (Ind.) against Ballard, the No. 1 team in Kentucky.
Arsenal Tech, Ballard and Huntington (W.Va.) Prep are scheduled to play two games each Saturday. UK signee Devin Booker and Moss Point (Miss.) are still planning to make the trip to Benton. Moss Point played in Mississippi on Friday night and planned to leave for Marshall County as soon as that game was over.
Saturday's schedule has been divided into two sessions, and tickets will cost $10 per session.
Session 1: Arsenal Tech vs. Ballard, noon CT; Huntington Prep vs. Atlanta Sports Academy (Ga.), 1:30 p.m.; Marshall County vs. Hopkinsville, 3 p.m.
Session 2: Prime Prep (Texas) vs. Quality Education (N.C.), 5 p.m.; Ballard vs. Moss Point, 6:30 p.m.; Huntington Prep vs. Arsenal Tech, 8 p.m.; Oak Hill (Va.) vs. Atlanta Sports Academy, 9:30 p.m.