Six-foot-ten forward Skal Labissiere, one of the top prospects in the nation, is expected to announce tomorrow which college he will attend—Kentucky and Memphis are among the favorites. No one should get too excited. CBS Sports has a story featuring this pronouncement from one coach who's been in on Labissiere's recruitment: "I doubt the kid ever plays one minute in college. The whole thing is a mess. I just feel sorry for the kid."
Even as ugly as the world of prep hoops can be, Labissiere's story is a horror show. The problem is his legal guardian, Gerald Hamilton, whom one local AAU coach describes as one of those "hobos, heroes and street-corner clowns" who predates young talent in the hopes of one striking it rich. Hamilton appears to have found that talent in Labissiere, who Hamilton brought to Memphis from his home in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
Labissiere was ruled ineligible for his upcoming senior season because his transfer from one school to another was deemed by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association to be solely for athletic reasons. So Hamilton came up with a solution:
Labissiere would play for Reach Your Dream Prep, a school that exists outside the TSSAA's authority altogether. Except Reach Your Dream Prep, founded and run by Hamilton, doesn't appear to be a school at all. It may not even exist. Labissiere isn't even pretending it does, planning to take his classes at the (real) high school he's not eligible to play ball for.
This is an eligibility nightmare for the NCAA and for whichever school successfully recruits Labissiere. It's likely what drove Emmanual Mudiay, who graduated from Deion Sanders's now-closed charter school, to play in
According to CBS Sports's Gary Parrish, the NCAA is already investigating how Hamilton is funding Reach Your Dream Prep, which, at the very least, appears to field a basketball team. Parrish's reporting hints at the answer:
Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn't offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: "We couldn't even get in the door." Another added: "We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved."
It's hard to see any way that Labissiere (ranked fourth nationally by Rivals.com, seventh by 247Sports, and 11th by ESPN) can ever clear the NCAA's eligibility guidelines. And it sounds like he was doomed from the start, when Hamilton plucked him from Haiti at the age of 14. It wasn't long after that that Hamilton made a phone call to an AAU coach.
"It was Gerald Hamilton," Easterwood told CBSSports.com. "He wanted to talk, and one of the things he asked me was, 'How can I make money off of a basketball player?'"