In an era where we had all believed a college basketball recruiting story couldn't possibly shock anymore, you have to tip your cap to Skal Labissiere and his coach/guardian/mentor Gerald Hamilton.
Labissiere's backstory and recruitment are both so bizarre and convoluted that an effective summary warrants a resume style bullet point point breakdown.
--A 6'11 center, Labissiere is a Haitian refugee and a consensus top-10 player from the class of 2015.
--Labissiere came to the United States in 2010 after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti and has since lived in Memphis under the care of his legal guardian, Gerald Hamilton.
--For reasons still not known, Hamilton had Labissiere switch summer programs as well as transfer from Evangelical Christian to Lausanne Collegiate School before his senior year. The move resulted in Labissiere being ruled ineligible by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, which saw the transfer as being made purely for basketball reasons.
--Labissiere then announced that he would be playing his senior season at Reach Your Dream Prep, which may or may not exist.
--Hamilton, who is serving as the head coach for the Reach Your Dream Prep basketball team (which, again, may or may not really exist), then made national headlines for canceling the team's first game and giving the excuse that Labissiere was sick.
--Most recently, CBS Sports' Gary Parrish published a story in which a Memphis AAU coach claimed Hamilton had straight up asked him how he could make money off Labissiere. The story also alleges that Hamilton shipped another Haitian refugee off to Boston when it became apparent that the young man was not likely to develop into a Division-I athlete.
This all leads us to Thursday night, when Labissiere announced that he was committing to play basketball for John Calipari at Kentucky. While the declaration will do little to quell the hoards of naysayers who believe the next time Americans see Labissiere on a court it will be in the NBA, if the young man is legitimately serious about wanting to play in college, he couldn't have made a better decision than this one.
In terms of recruiting, what Calipari has been able to accomplish at Kentucky over the last five years is unprecedented. He's reeled in five-star teenagers from all over the country with every kind of backstory, and he's done so with surprisingly few eligibility issues. Given that track record, it makes sense to think that teaming up with Bug Blue Nation gives Labissiere the best shot at being able to showcase his talents in 2015-16.
"I don't think they would take the commitment if they didn't think he could be eligible," said Matt Jones, host and founder of the popular Kentucky Sports Radio show and website. "It's good and bad for him committing to Kentucky. He's going to be looked at three times as much as he would if he committed to another program, but I do think it gives him the best chance to play in college ... if he really does want to play in college."
Labissiere said back in July that going the Brandon Jennings/Emmanuel Mudiay route and skipping college in favor of playing a year overseas before entering the NBA Draft could be a viable option for him. It's a move that Hamilton has already reportedly looked into, and one which multiple folks who follow recruiting for a living believe is more likely than Labissiere ever putting on a college uniform.
But even if Labissiere is deemed ineligible to play college basketball in 2015-15, a year in Lexington probably wouldn't be the worst thing for him.
In the Calipari era at Kentucky, just one high-profile recruit has felt the wrath of the NCAA. Despite UK's best efforts and multiple appeals, Enes Kanter was forced to sit out the entire 2010-11 season after the NCAA ruled that the $33,000 he received from a Turkish professional team was beyond what it considered acceptable.
Life for Kanter has been just fine since then. He stayed in Lexington and practiced with the team for the duration of its Final Four season. He was then selected by the Utah Jazz with the third-overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and is now a millionaire.
"I think they'd do the exact same thing as they did (with Kanter)," Jones said regarding the possibility of Labissiere being declared ineligible. "For all the things said about Calipari, you have to believe that he really cares about these kids. Once they get on campus, they're part of the program. They have Kanter's picture up there on the wall of former players in the NBA right along with everyone else."