UK Men's Basketball

Notebook: Skal Labissiere requires patience, a quality rare for UK basketball

Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere (1) grabs a rebound in the first half of the Hoophall Miami Invitational NCAA basketball tournament against South Florida , Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Miami.
Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere (1) grabs a rebound in the first half of the Hoophall Miami Invitational NCAA basketball tournament against South Florida , Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Miami. AP

What?! You haven’t finished reading this week’s UK notebook?! What’s taking so long?!

Patience, Groucho Marx once quipped, was “the art of finding something else to do.” Mark Twain lauded the virtue of patience in his inimitable way. “All good things arrive unto those that wait,” he wrote, “and don’t die in the meantime.”

These thoughts come to mind as Kentucky basketball waits — impatiently — for freshman Skal Labissiere to develop as a player.

Patience barely exists in an age of one-and-done players, mock NBA Draft projections (DraftExpress.com already has UK signee De’Aaron Fox as the fourth player picked in 2017; NBADraft.net has him taken fifth) and Joe Lunardi’s laughably premature Bracketology updates nine months before the NCAA Tournament.

Given a Kentucky program built upon a revolving door of one-and-done players, what chance does Labissiere have to improve on the court without people tapping a foot or saying with a sigh, C’mon. C’mon. Hurry up.

Coach John Calipari acknowledges this impatience when he says the deadline for Kentucky players fully blossoming is January … of their freshman season. Calipari wasn’t complaining. How could he? Many players come to Kentucky with the idea of leaving after one season. Calipari frequently touts the many players drafted (25) and first-round picks (19) he’s had in his first six seasons at UK. Sixteen have been freshmen.

When asked last week about Labissiere needing to become a more physical player, senior (senior?) Alex Poythress offered thoughtful and wise analysis. “It just comes with time,” he said.

This echoed Calipari, who said, “It’s a process.” Or Eastern Kentucky Coach Dan McHale, who when asked about Labissiere said, “It’s just a learning curve for him.”

Labissiere “made strides” in Kentucky’s victory over EKU, Calipari said. “He’s not there yet, but he mixed it up. He dove on the floor. Now, he hurt his elbow, he said. But he did dive on the floor. … So he’s making strides.”

In comparing Labissiere to Kentucky’s previous star freshmen after eight games of their college “careers,” he held his own. He ranked only behind Anthony Davis in shooting accuracy and only behind Julius Randle in free-throw accuracy. As a scorer, he trailed Randle, DeMarcus Cousins and Davis, while being more productive than Nerlens Noel and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Skill, as Calipari says, is not the issue.

It’s in the more physical work of rebounding where Labissiere lagged. His average of 3.9 rebounds ranked last among the six highly regarded freshman big men to play for UK since 2009-10.

Talk of Labissiere being “soft” surfaced after Kentucky lost at UCLA.

Terry Tippett, who coached Labissiere in high school, came to his defense. “I think he’s weak,” he said. “There’s no doubt he’s too light. But he’s not soft. I don’t buy that.”

Time and the maturing process can make all the difference.

That people got impatient with Labissiere after a game at UCLA might cause Kentucky fans with long memories or a working knowledge of basketball history to smile knowingly.

By today’s I-want-it-now standard, John Wooden would never have become the Wizard of Westwood.

In Wooden’s first 13 seasons as coach, the Bruins played in the NCAA Tournament three times. UCLA lost in the first round all three times.

In the 1959-60 season, Wooden’s 12th as coach, UCLA had a 14-12 record. The Bruins had still not won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament.

After making the Final Four in 1962, UCLA lost again in the first round in 1963. In that loss, the Bruins trailed Arizona State 62-31 at halftime.

Of course, a run of 10 national championships in 12 years began in 1964.

Wooden had to be patient himself. When hired by UCLA in 1948, he was told there would be a new arena within three years. That arena, Pauley Pavilion, opened in 1965.

Maybe all that is why Wooden mentioned the value of patience in his book, Pyramid of Success.

“Our society has been permeated by a mind-set of immediate gratification,” he wrote. “Simply put, people are impatient. They want too much too soon. They have lost sight of an overarching truth: In life, worthwhile accomplishments and acquisitions take time. Usually, the better the reward, the more time it takes to acquire it.”

UMass honoring Cal

UMass plans to honor John Calipari on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Of course, in the 1990s, Calipari astonished the college basketball world by making UMass basketball relevant.

The rags-to-riches story included five NCAA Tournament appearances and advancement to the 1996 Final Four where the Minutemen lost to, ahem, Kentucky.

UMass will stage “A Night with John Calipari” on Tuesday in Boston, at The Colonnade Hotel. The program will include appearances by former UMass players Marcus Camby, Lou Roe and Derek Kellogg. (Tickets are $300 and a table of 10 can be purchased for $3,000. More details are at umassalumni.com/calipari.

UMass will raise a banner in honor of Calipari at halftime of its game against New Orleans on Wednesday. The banner bearing Calipari’s name will hang alongside those of George “Trigger” Burke, Julius Erving, Al Skinner, Camby and Roe.

‘Great for college basketball’

During a recent (and much needed) cleanup of the desk area, a comment Steve Kerr made going into the 2014 Final Four surfaced.

Then a TV analyst, Kerr was asked on a teleconference about why some people disliked Kentucky basketball. Kerr likened UK to the New York Yankees or Notre Dame football.

“They’re the team that’s just always going to be in the news,” he said. “They’re great for college basketball because love them or hate them, they’re a story. People want to watch them either to cheer for them or against them.”

As to why UK basketball would spark strong feelings, Kerr said, “Part of that is just the tradition of the program. Part of that is the one-and-done. College fans, in general, are not fans of the one-and-done. They’d prefer to see players stay.”

Of course, the one-and-done rule is settled law, so to speak. John Calipari has taken Kentucky to almost unprecedented success with so-called one-and-done players as a foundational piece of the operation.

Kerr, who coached the Golden State Warriors to an NBA championship last season, said that Kentucky had come to symbolize the one-and-done rule.

“Coach Cal has not only employed the one-and-done rule, he’s embraced it and celebrated it in a lot of ways … ,” Kerr said. “As a result, Kentucky is an easy mark to protest against the rule.”

Farewell performance

Last week’s notes with former UCLA shooter Lynn Shackelford jogged the memory of a reader. Shackelford played with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) for UCLA in the late 1960s.

William G. Hiles Jr., recalled being a Boy Scout usher at the 1960 UKIT and watching UK Coach Adolph Rupp present the Most Valuable Player award to a player from West Virginia, Jerry West.

Hiles recalled Rupp saying something to the effect, “I told Harry (Lancaster), we’re going to have to give that West boy a diploma to get rid of him.”

West and West Virginia played in three straight UKIT events. West Virginia beat Kentucky in 1958 (West’s sophomore season) and 1960. UK won in 1959.

“I don’t believe the Mountaineers were ever invited back to the UKIT,” Hiles wrote in an email.

Actually, after West had gone on to the Los Angeles Lakers to begin a Hall of Fame NBA career, West Virginia played in the UKIT in 1962 and 1964. West Virginia had the good manners to lose to Kentucky both times.

Hiles, 70, is a retired journalist who worked for two newspapers in Tennessee: The Tennessean and the Dyersburg State Gazette. He is a Transylvania graduate (1967) and a lifelong UK fan. He retired to Lexington in 2007.

Keightley tree?

The late Bill Keightley was UK basketball’s longtime equipment manager and father confessor for players. Apparently, he also has a coaching tree.

Among the former UK student managers who worked for Keightley, at least three became head coaches: Frank Vogel with the Indiana Pacers, Dan McHale at Eastern Kentucky and Chris Briggs at Georgetown College.

Then there’s longtime high school coach Jeff Morrow.

Of course, McHale paid tribute to Keightley by having longtime UK Man Friday Van Florence accompany him to the court Wednesday night.

Road hazard

Ryan Lemond, the game-show host for UK’s halftime entertainment, went to the UCLA game. Kentucky lost.

That continued a pattern. Lemond, who doesn’t attend many away games, also went to North Carolina and Kansas the last time Kentucky played there. UK lost both times.

Now, for the good news: Lemond does not plan to travel to any more UK road games this season.

Remote control

Then again, Ryan Lemond does not necessarily have to be at Kentucky games to get his “work” done.

ESPN proved that Wednesday when announcers Bob Picozzi and Kara Lawson called the UK-Eastern Kentucky game from the network’s Bristol, Conn., studios. The game was on ESPN2.

ESPN calls this arrangement “Remote Integration games,” or “Remi” for short.

“Remote Integration setup allows ESPN to continue to innovate, and to reinvest in resources to make our overall productions bigger and better,” spokesperson Rachel Siegal wrote in an email. “It is also a way to try new things and evolve our technology.”

Announcers will be on site for the rest of UK’s games televised by an ESPN channel this season, she said.

Happy birthday

To Kelenna Azubuike. He turns 32 on Wednesday. …To Cameron Mills. He turned 40 on Thursday. … To Allen Edwards. He turns 40 on Wednesday. … To Deron Feldhaus. He turns 47 on Wednesday. … To Thad Jaracz. He turns 69 on Tuesday. … To Jan van Breda Kolff. The former Vanderbilt coach turns 64 on Wednesday. … To Mike Anderson. The Arkansas coach turned 56 on Saturday. … To Adam Chiles. He turns 33 on Wednesday. … To Matthew Mitchell. UK’s women’s basketball coach turns 45 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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