Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere considers big men Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis as role models for how he wants to play.
But at this early stage of his development as a college player, Labissiere most resembles UK's star freshman of last season: Karl-Anthony Towns. And UK hopes Labissiere's play mirrors Towns' throughout the season.
Like Towns last preseason, Labissiere thinks of himself as a face-the-basket threat on offense. He must transform himself into a back-to-the-basket force that Towns became as the season unfolded.
"I love to face up," Labissiere said Thursday. "I think that's a big part of my game.
"But now I'm learning how to play with my back to the basket instead of settling for jumpers."
Of big men shooting face-the-basket shots, which he dismissed as "fadeaways," UK Coach John Calipari said, "You ain't going to win a whole lot of games shooting that shot all the time."
Better to establish a low-post presence, Calipari said. That's how Towns evolved into the hub of UK's offense last season and became the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
The new rules, which are supposed to interpret physical contact as fouls, provide added incentive for big men like Labissiere to be low-post scorers, Calipari said.
"We've just got to teach him how to fight for position initially so he can catch the ball," the UK coach said. "Then do the stuff you do."
Labissiere, who is projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in next year's NBA Draft, said he already had a favorite low-post move.
"Simple," he said. "Go to the middle (of the lane) and right-hand hook. Every time."
But, Calipari suggested that one reason big men like Towns and Labissiere prefer to face the basket is that it's the path of least resistance. "You won't have the body-to-body fight," the UK coach said. "'Let me just shoot the fadeaway jumper.'"
Calipari summed up the lesson he taught Towns and hopes to teach Labissiere with a compelling turn of phrase. "Teaching them winning basketball," he said.
When asked if he had a green light to shoot jumpers, Labissiere smiled and said, "Just a little bit."
If not a red light, that sounded like a bright yellow cautionary light.
"Cal wants me to be a presence down low," he said. "I'm still working on that."
Isaac Humphries, UK's other freshman center, goes against Labissiere in practice. He vouched for how Labissiere is adapting to the give-and-take of basketball in the lane.
"He likes a good throat shot every now and then," Humphries said with a smile. "Three in a row last practice. ...
"I can take it. I just tell him that's a foul in a game. It's probably best you don't do that in a game. I'm fine to take it, but maybe not the opposition."
When asked about these throat shots, Calipari shifted the focus to how Labissiere has not transformed himself into rootin'-tootin' roughneck.
"He's got a ways to go," Calipari said. "We've got to do a better job of teaching him how to fight (for) position and hold his position and how to make sure you're catching balls. Catching it close (to the basket). It's all new to him."
Repeatedly this preseason, Calipari has said Labissiere must play with more competitive fight.
Playing against Humphries helps. "He pushes me and makes me better," Labissiere said.
Labissiere also said he benefited by playing against Marcus Lee. "Makes you think quicker because he reacts to everything you do," he said.
And, as Humphries said, the benefit has a "vice versa" component. Competing with Labissiere has made him better.
At 6-foot-11 and 225 pounds, Labissiere gives up an inch and 35 pounds to Humphries. He clearly does not have the bulk to bull his way to where he wants to go.
"I just need to play lower," he said. "One of my main things right now: learning how to play lower."
UK's opponent in Friday night's exhibition, Kentucky State, lists only one player taller than 6-4. Labissiere and Humphries said this lack of height gives them incentive to, as they said, play lower.
Although Kentucky does not play its first regular-season game until next Friday, Calipari said Labissiere had made noticeable improvement already.
"He's gotten so much better in a short period of time," Calipari said. "But he's got a long way to go. He has to learn that same will to win. The fight for loose balls. ...Every drill is based on that. That's better than a fadeaway jumper."