From the rubble of Haiti's 2010 earthquake, Skal Labissiere chases his NBA dream
And Labissiere credits the aftermath of that devastating earthquake for giving him the opportunity to chase his own NBA dream.
"It was a terrible experience, but …once the earthquake happened, it got easier for me to get [to the United States]," Labissiere told Yahoo Sports.
On Jan. 12, 2010, the 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti just 16 miles away from the capital of Port-au-Prince. Labissiere was inside his home with his mother and brother while his father was outside as the earthquake began. The force was so strong that the home collapsed on everyone but the father.
Skal Labissiere is the fourth-ranked player in the 2015 class by Rivals.com. (Getty Images)
"It was a strange and weird day," Labissiere said. "I can talk about it, but only the people that were there would really understand what it was like. I just remember being in my house with my mom and my brother and my dad was outside. I had just got home from practice and I was in the kitchen washing my hands before I got something to eat. When I was washing my hands, the house started to shake.
"My mom was in the living room so I ran to her. My little brother came in there and the house collapsed on us. We were there for about three hours. I couldn't walk for two weeks."
Labissiere, now 18 and 7-foot, 216 pounds, grew up an avid soccer player in Haiti. But he soon thought he was growing too tall for the sport and turned his focus to basketball at about 11 years old. While Haiti is not known for its basketball, Labissiere learned needed skills like developing a jump hook and jump shot from his coaches there while playing primarily outdoors.
Labissiere wanted to go to high school in the United States to help his basketball dream, but initially didn't have the means. That door, however, opened after the earthquake when he was granted an opportunity to play at Evangelical Christian High School in Memphis, Tenn., through a charity. After becoming ineligible at Evangelical Christian after last season and playing next for Reach Your Dream Prep in Memphis, he committed to the University of Kentucky. Rivals.com ranked him as the fourth-best prep prospect in the class of 2015.
"I always wanted to go to Kentucky," Labissiere said. "I saw [coach John Calipari's] track record. He gets [you] ready physically and mentally for the next level, and that's what I want to be a part of, playing against guys who are really good every single day."
Some NBA scouts weren't too familiar with Labissiere prior to him being selected to play in the Hoop Summit, which will pit the USA's Junior National Select Team against the top international teens. Labissiere is playing for the World team, which includes Australian forward Ben Simmons, who is widely considered the best player of the class of 2015.
"I didn't play that many games this season so coming out here to the Hoop Summit really helped me a lot," Labissiere said.
One NBA scout who watched Labissiere during four days of World practices said he has vaulted himself to consideration for the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. The scout also likened him to Portland Trail Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
"In my eyes he's going No. 1 next year because he's just so coordinated, so fluid, so skilled," the scout said. "He's not a great shooter now, but you can see he's going to be a very good shooter. He has good balance, good footwork. All the building blocks to be a really good big guy.
"He's a guy that no one [in the NBA] has seen a lot before this. All the recruiting guys talk about him. …This is my first time seeing him in person and I'm really impressed."
Another NBA scout saw Labissiere as the second-best prospect on the World team behind Simmons.
"Skal has clearly separated himself from the rest of the group after Simmons," the scout said. "Really soft touch, trending towards a pick-and-pop guy. Gives you some rim protection and defensive rebounding. Has improved his upper body strength. Still a work in progress."
Haiti has had only three NBA players in Samuel Dalembert, Olden Polynice and Yvon Joseph, who played in just one game. Labissiere is also close friends with Philadelphia 76ers and ex-Kentucky forward-center Nerlens Noel, who is of Haitian descent. Labissiere has not been back to Haiti since coming to the United States. He hopes to return as an NBA player in the coming years with the ability to help and inspire his homeland.
"I want to help kids in need and people in general," Labissiere said. "Not just doing basketball camps, but also help them in general and spiritually, especially. I don't feel like I have to give back. It's more like a willing. I want to give back.
"I am in position to inspire a lot of people, a lot of young people. It's a blessing to be in this position and I can't take it for granted because I know a lot of people look up to me."