Skal Labissiere, the freshman in the crosshairs of Kentucky basketball’s unceasing scrutiny, spent a recent night at Coach John Calipari’s home.
On a teleconference Thursday, Calipari explained why he wanted Labissiere to sleep over.
“He’s getting it from all angles,” Calipari said. “I want him to know, and my wife wants him to know, we love you. We’re here for you.”
The Big Blue Nation has been dissecting Labissiere’s early-season struggles. The control group in the never-ending examination is a list of standout one-and-done big men: DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Karl-Anthony Towns.
“A lot of times, these kids have so much stuff on them, they become paralyzed,” Calipari said.
During the teleconference and a news conference at UK later in the day, Calipari outlined how he’s hoping to help Labissiere in addition to the sleepover.
As for on the court, Calipari likened Labissiere to Josh Harrellson. Additional conditioning work helped transform Harrellson into the low-post hero of Kentucky’s run to the 2011 Final Four.
Harrellson ran on a treadmill as punishment for indiscreet tweets about Calipari. Coincidentally, the extra conditioning made him a better player.
“We’re trying to do a little bit what we did with Josh,” said Calipari, who cautioned fans not to expect instant results. “Doing extra training, it kind of buries you. (Labissiere) will probably take that step back.
“But just like Josh, he wasn’t at the kind of condition they need to perform at a high level.”
Calipari, who was honored at UMass this week, said that while there he encouraged Marcus Camby, the Minutemen’s Labissiere of the mid-1990s, to come to Lexington and counsel the UK freshman.
Conditioning work “buried” Camby as a freshman, Calipari said. When Camby signaled he needed to come out of a game, Calipari said he turned his back.
“I played Marcus 20 minutes a game as a freshman,” Calipari said. “That was every single minute I could leave him on the court.”
He’s getting there. He’s been fighting a lot more in practice. Coach has been pushing him really hard. And he’s getting to where he needs to be.
Tyler Ulis, on Skal Labissiere
Calipari said he asked Labissiere about meeting with Camby.
“When you’re a big kid and you haven’t been through this, and you don’t have a whole lot of weight, it starts to overwhelm,” Calipari said. “And it starts to play on you. Marcus went through it.”
Camby, who led UMass to the 1996 Final Four, needed “the better part of two years” to adjust and excel at the college level, Calipari said.
Of course, in the age of so-called one-and-done players, development is measured in months, not years.
“They shouldn’t think in those terms,” Calipari said before adding, “They all do. Not just Skal.”
Labissiere has the additional burden of having many tough acts to follow as one-and-done players: Cousins, Davis, Noel and Towns.
For the first time, freshmen are being pushed hard.
“They don’t know how far they can go,” Calipari said. “And when they hit a point, they kind of wither. And that’s not just Skal. That’s all these young kids.”
Tyler Ulis and Isaac Humphries said that Labissiere is progressing. Each said that the freshman is competing and battling more in practice.
“He just needs to translate it over to games,” Humphries said. “I don’t think he’s struggling. He’s just adjusting. He’s doing it his own little way. We’re all behind him, so it’s all good.”
Of fan impatience, Humphries said Labissiere progresses “day by day, step by step.”
Then he added, “We can’t control what the fans think.”
Ulis also downplayed the notion that Labissiere is struggling.
“He’s getting there,” he said. “He’s fine. He’s been fighting a lot more in practice. Coach has been pushing him really hard. And he’s getting to where he needs to be.”
When asked how he, as team leader, can help Labissiere, Ulis said, “Just make sure he doesn’t think about it too much. Make sure he doesn’t get down when he doesn’t have a great game. Just trying to help him through it.
“He’s fine. He’s going to be OK. Every day in practice, he understands what he needs to do for the team and he’s trying his best to do it. He’s going to get there.”
Kentucky vs. Ohio State
What: CBS Sports Classic
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: 3:30 p.m.