UK Recruiting

Guardian is 'X' factor in Labissiere's future

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

High school basketball star Skal Labissiere sat alone in front of a television camera when he announced his commitment to the University of Kentucky on Thursday night.

Gerald Hamilton wasn't on the screen, but UK fans should get used to hearing his name for the foreseeable future.

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Hamilton brought Labissiere to the United States in 2010 after an earthquake devastated the basketball prodigy's home country of Haiti. He is now Labissiere's legal guardian and has been the person responsible for handling his recruitment.

Labissiere, who lives with Hamilton and his family, played for Evangelical Christian School in Memphis when he was first recruited by John Calipari and several other major college coaches.

Over the summer, he transferred across town to Lausanne Collegiate School but was ruled ineligible by the governing body of Tennessee high school athletics because of circumstances surrounding the transfer.

Labissiere remains a full-time student at Lausanne, but Hamilton has since established his own traveling team — Reach Your Dream Prep — to get Labissiere back on the court this season, though the team has not yet played a game and has no set roster or schedule.

Hamilton's motives have been questioned in several reports over the past few months, including a story Wednesday from Gary Parrish, who has written extensively about Labissiere's recruitment and quoted an AAU coach who recalled that Hamilton asked him how he could "make money" off top basketball recruits.

Hamilton has not returned several phone calls from the Herald-Leader over the past few days.

Parrish was the first national writer to chronicle Labissiere's story — starting more than two years ago — and is quick to praise the UK commitment's character.

"Skal is the best," Parrish told the Herald-Leader. "I've never heard anybody say a bad word about him. I think he's smart, thoughtful, genuinely kind."

Parrish, who lives in Memphis, also called ECS and Lausanne "two of the best" schools in the city and added that he would be "shocked" if there are ever any NCAA questions about Labissiere's academic eligibility.

"There will be no academic problem," he said. "From the academic side, the kid is a terrific student."

The potential problems, Parrish and others say, will be related to Labissiere's amateurism status.

The NCAA will likely look into Hamilton's background before clearing Labissiere to play at Kentucky. Hamilton also has publicly discussed the possibility that Labissiere could forgo college, play next season overseas, and then jump to the NBA.

"Just because he signs with Kentucky doesn't necessarily mean he's going to ever enroll at Kentucky," Parrish said. "I would say it's probably a coin flip at this point."

Despite the questions surrounding the recruitment, Parrish said there is minimal risk on UK's end in accepting Labissiere's national letter of intent.

"I don't think that John's put himself at risk," he said. "John's too smart to do that. John Calipari ain't risking an $8 million job and his reputation ... over a top-10 recruit when he signs three of them every year no matter what."

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