Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.


Report: Former Kings star offers to pay for Stephon Clark's funeral

Report: Former Kings star offers to pay for Stephon Clark's funeral

Former Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins reportedly reached out to Stephon Clark's family and offered to cover the cost of his a funeral, according to The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones

Sacramento police shot and killed Clark, a 22-year-old African-American father of two, on Sunday while he was holding a cellphone in the backyard of his grandmother's home. Clark was unarmed. 

During his six-and-a-half year tenure in Sacramento, Cousins was not only the face of the Kings on the court, but the face of outreach efforts off of it. He paid for the funeral of Sacramento-area high school football player Jaulon "JJ" Clavo, who was shot in 2015, and ran free children's basketball camps for the city's children during the summer.

He continued to run a camp last summer following a midseason trade to the New Orleans Pelicans, and has spoken at length about how much he treasures maintaining strong ties to Sacramento. He told The Sacramento Bee last February that he "still consider[s Sacramento] a home."

“It’s very important to me,” Cousins told The New Orleans Advocate in October. “I’ve built relationships in a lot of the different places I’ve been. My biggest thing is helping those kids and helping families in need. I was once in their position, and it would’ve done wonders if I could’ve had a little bit of help coming up. I’m just doing my part.”

Bodycam footage from the officer-involved shooting was released on Wednesday, setting off protests on Thursday. Protestors blocked traffic on Interstate 5 both ways, according to NPR, before locking arms and surrounding the Golden 1 Center ahead of Hawks-Kings that night. Those protests delayed the start of the game by 15 minutes, and an estimated 15,000 fans were unable to enter the arena. 

Kings find themselves in middle of protest as sports, politics collide: 'It has to stop'

Kings find themselves in middle of protest as sports, politics collide: 'It has to stop'

SACRAMENTO -- Basketball took a backseat Thursday evening at Golden 1 Center. Protesters surrounded the Sacramento Kings’ facility, locking arms and blocking the entrance to an estimated 15,000 fans. The game was delayed by nearly 15 minutes and the limited number of ticket holders that made it into the building were basically put on lock down and supplied with free food for the evening.

This issue at hand was the officer involved shooting death of Stephon Clark, a local South Sacramento man that was killed Sunday evening.

Video of the shooting was released by the Sacramento Police Department Wednesday afternoon, setting off community outcry in Sacramento.

In perhaps his finest moment as owner and chairman of the Sacramento Kings, Vivek Ranadivé took center court surrounded by his players to address the undersized crowd.

“On Sunday, we had a horrific, horrific tragedy in our community and on behalf of the players, the executives, ownership and the entire Kings family, I first of all want to express our deepest sympathies to the family. What happened was absolutely horrific and we are so very sorry for your loss.

I also want to say that we at the Kings recognize your people’s ability to protest peacefully and we respect that. We here at the Kings recognize that we have a big platform. It’s a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously and we stand before you; old, young, black, white, brown and we are all united in our commitment.

We recognize that it’s not just business as usual and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place, starting in our own community. We are going to work hard to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”

Protests continued throughout the night in the courtyard adjacent to Golden 1 Center. Security and police stood guard at each entrance, trying to keep the events outside the building from spilling into the team’s two-year-old facility.

The locker room was quiet. Despite the 105-90 victory by the Kings, basketball was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

"I just want to say I 100 percent agree with the protest outside,” Garrett Temple said following the game. “If I didn't have a job to do, I probably would have been out there with them peacefully protesting, because what's going on has to stop. It has to stop.”

Sacramento’s leader behind the scenes, Temple has been active in reaching out in the community and fostering conversation with local youth. He wasn’t able to play in Thursday evening’s game due to a left ankle sprain, but that didn’t stop him from waiting around to field questions.

“I think the protest did what it was supposed to do, it brought a light to what’s going on, I think that’s what protests are for,” Temple added. “After that, something has to change. Us not playing a basketball game isn’t going to change the fact that police unfortunately view black and brown men as a threat, when they are certainly not.”

Temple said that he had viewed the video and admitted that it was dark. A split second decision by a police officer cost Clark, a 22-year-old African American, his life. According to published reports, Clark was holding his mobile phone and not a weapon as officers believed.

The tragic events played out in seconds, but it’s storyline that many communities around the country have had to face on countless occasions.

Temple isn’t one to sit by idly by and bite his tongue. He may have addressed the shooting on his own with or without the protest going on outside the arena. But with the events of the night, politics and sports intersected at 500 David J. Stern Walk, opening a door for Temple to express himself.

“To those that say politics and sports don’t intertwine, this is a democracy, people have a voice and we’re people at the end of the day,” Temple said. “Obviously, sports and politics definitely intertwined tonight. The protesters did what they wanted to do in terms of bring light to the situation.”

In addition to Ranadivé’s comments following then contest, the Kings put out two separate press releases. The first came out around 7 pm to update fans of the current status of the game.

"Tonight's game began with a delay. Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home. We will issue further information soon regarding a refund."

The second press release came later to insure fans that they would receive a refund.

“Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remained closed as tonight’s game proceeded with a delay. In the coming days, guests who purchased tickets for tonight’s game directly through the Sacramento Kings or Ticketmaster will receive detailed instructions to facilitate a full refund.”

The Kings return to the court Sunday afternoon for a 3pm matinee game.