Trapped in the rubble that once was his home, Skal Labissiere believed the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti had crushed his dream of playing in the NBA.
“I was, like, ‘eh, it’s dead,’” Labissiere said.
Hearing his father Lesly’s frantic screaming while trying to rescue family members lifted Labissiere’s spirits.
“When I heard his voice, it kind of gave me hope a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know where he found the energy to do it. He was digging for two or three hours. . . . It was definitely God looking out for me.”
At a pre-draft interview session Wednesday, Labissiere recalled his amazing journey — from earthquake survivor to lottery pick in the NBA Draft.
And he boldly told reporters that he aims to go much further still. He intends for Thursday’s NBA Draft to be a launch pad, not a finish line.
“I firmly believe two, three years from now, maybe five years from now, I can be the best player in this draft . . . ,” Labissiere said. “As I get stronger and more mature, as my body matures more, I think I can become a really, really good NBA player.”
Labissiere credited his 2015-16 season at Kentucky as a reason he thinks he can be a top-level pro player. His struggles honed a mental toughness, he said.
“I actually think my year at Kentucky is going to help me in the future big time,” Labissiere said. “Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. But I think it’s going to help me in the future.”
It’s not unusual to hear skeptics question how much one college season – a regular occurrence for the revolving door Kentucky program -- can impact a player. Labissiere acknowledged the doubters.
“People say six months at Kentucky doesn’t help you, doesn’t prepare you for the NBA,” he said. “But the way I see it, six months at Kentucky is the equivalent to five years at another school.”
Labissiere is projected to be drafted late in the lottery (first 14 picks). Whenever he hears his name, it will be the culmination of a basketball journey that began long before the earthquake.
“I’ve come really far,” he said. “Been through a lot. . . . It still hasn’t really hit me yet. I think it’s really going to hit me tomorrow when I get my name called or when I’m sitting at the table waiting for it to be called. Or maybe tonight. I’m still on a very chill mode right now.”
Labissiere said he will have extended family at the draft. His parents, a younger brother, “my Memphis family” and “pretty much cousins and uncles” will attend the draft, he said. Members of his father’s family live in New York.
“It’s always been my dream,” he said of the NBA Draft. “It’s pretty cool.”
Labissiere said he was about 9 years old when he first began thinking of the NBA. Kobe Bryant was his favorite player.
“I saw the skill set,” he said of Bryant. “That’s what I wanted to be like growing up.”
Then came the earthquake.
“Affected me in a big way,” he said. “It changed my life forever. Changed the way I see life. Everything can be taken away from you at any point. I don’t care who you are. You can be the richest guy on this Earth, and the next day, the next 30 seconds, everything can change for you. I saw it for myself. I experienced it.”
Soccer is the most popular sport and the stuff of dreams in Haiti, Labissiere said. But basketball has a presence on the island and figures to grow in popularity as a native son becomes an NBA draft pick.
“A lot of kids do (dream of the NBA),” Labissiere said. “But we don’t have the same resources for it.”
Labissiere counted former UK player Karl-Anthony Towns as a friend and confidant. Labissiere might play that role in the future for a future basketball dreamer in Haiti.
If so, Labissiere may be readily available to offer advice.
“It’s still my home,” he said of Haiti. “I want to be able to go down there and have a place down there. Hopefully someday.”
But first, there is the NBA Draft . When asked what he most looked forward to with the draft, Labissiere laughed and said, “Putting my suit on.
“I told people it was going to be Kentucky blue, which it was. But we changed the color of it a little bit.”
Labissiere said he simply liked the other color better. He declined to say what the color is.
“You’ll see it tomorrow,” he said.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (via Nets)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (via Knicks)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Utah Jazz
13. Phoenix Suns (via Wizards)
14. Chicago Bulls
15. Denver Nuggets (via Rockets)
16. Boston Celtics (via Mavericks)
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Detroit Pistons
19. Denver Nuggets (via Blazers)
20. Indiana Pacers
21. Atlanta Hawks
22. Charlotte Hornets
23. Boston Celtics
24. Philadelphia 76ers (via Heat/Cavaliers)
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Thunder/Nuggets/Cavaliers)
27. Toronto Raptors
28. Phoenix Suns (via Cavaliers/Celtics)
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Golden State Warriors