UK Recruiting

Labissiere, Briscoe kick-start Cats' 2015 class

Skal Labissiere, playing for Evangelical Christian, blocked a shot in the Tennessee Division II Class A high school state championship game in Nashville in 2013.
Skal Labissiere, playing for Evangelical Christian, blocked a shot in the Tennessee Division II Class A high school state championship game in Nashville in 2013. ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a matter of minutes, John Calipari's recruiting class of 2015 went from underwhelming to perhaps the best in the country.

Five-star prospects Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labissiere both announced their commitments to the University of Kentucky during Thursday night's signing period special on ESPNU.

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Briscoe and Labissiere join Chicago guard Charles Matthews — who committed to UK in February — to form what ESPN's recruiting analysts said is the No. 1 class in the country. Rivals.com and Scout.com immediately ranked UK's trio No. 2 nationally behind a four-player class from Arizona.

Whatever the ranking, Calipari is off to a great recruiting start once again, and UK remains firmly in the mix for several other five-star prospects expected to hold off on college decisions until the spring.

Labissiere — a 6-foot-11 power forward from Haiti now living in Memphis — announced his commitment first.

"Since my freshman year, I always wanted to go there," Labissiere said after putting on a UK hat. "I watched Coach Cal on TV. I watched his teams with Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel. That's one of the reasons I worked so hard with my academics and on the court — because I wanted to have the chance to play there."

Labissiere was the first player from the class of 2015 to earn a scholarship offer from Calipari, who attended the Haitian's season opener during his sophomore year at Evangelical Christian School and extended the offer following the game.

Scout.com ranks Labissiere as the No. 3 overall prospect in the senior class. He chose the Wildcats over Memphis, Baylor, Georgetown, North Carolina and Tennessee.

"At 6-11, he has tremendous skill," Scout.com director of recruiting Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "He's a pretty good athlete and he's a guy who can impact the game on both ends. He's got good timing. He's long. He's a good shot blocker. He's mobile.

"He's also equipped to score some points. He has a good-looking jump shot. He can face up and make mid-range jump shots and even step out a little farther than that. He's also got some moves on the block — a nice jump hook and good scoring touch around the basket."

Labissiere missed almost his entire junior season with a back injury but returned and played well on the summer circuit. He has since transferred across town to Lausanne Collegiate School for his senior year.

The governing body of Tennessee high school athletics ruled Labissiere ineligible to play this season because of the timing of his transfer. The transfer flap will also prevent Labissiere from playing in next year's McDonald's All-American Game.

"The thing with Skal that makes him so intriguing is his size mixed with his athleticism and skill package," Daniels said. "This is a guy that ... when it's all said and done, he could make a play for No. 1 in the class."

A few minutes after Labissiere pledged for UK, it was Briscoe's turn.

The 6-3 guard from New Jersey — nicknamed "Boogie" — also donned a UK hat after his announcement.

"Everything about Kentucky made me want to attend the school," he said. "Right now, Coach Calipari has a machine going on with getting point guards to the NBA, like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Derrick Rose.

"I can see myself in that mold and being the next great point guard to come out of Kentucky."

Briscoe is widely regarded as the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2015 and chose UK over St. John's and UConn.

He was long projected as a shooting guard but has developed his on-the-ball skills over the past few months. During the summer, he won a FIBA gold medal with a Team USA junior squad and led his Nike-sponsored AAU team to the Peach Jam title.

"He slimmed down and got quicker. And that certainly helped his point guard skills," Daniels said. "I think he's certainly a combo guard and a guy who can fill some roles.

"He can obviously score the basketball. He's a terrific driver. Strong, physical, good finisher around the rim. He can make mid-range pullups. And he's also really improved his feel and his passing ability."

Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Dominique Hawkins are all expected to return to UK next season, and the Wildcats already have another solid commitment at the guard position with Matthews.

Ulis would be the main threat to Briscoe's playing time at point guard, but Daniels is confident the two players will be able to co-exist in Lexington.

"I know that Isaiah Briscoe wants to play with the ball in his hands," he said. "And I'm sure Kentucky's pitch to him has been showing him video of John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. And showing that they have played two point guards together in the past.

"I think it's certainly feasible that those two could play together, for sure."

That said, Briscoe announced Thursday that he plans to wait until the spring to sign his binding national letter of intent with UK.

"I'll just wait to see how everything plays out," he said. "See who stays, see who goes and things like that."

Matthews and Labissiere are expected to sign their letters of intent Friday.

"It's a great starting spot, but it's always where we expect Kentucky to be," Daniels said. "And they're not done. This gives them a good foundation: Two elite-level recruits and an elite utility-type player that can help them."

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