AAU coach: Skal Labissiere's guardian asked how to profit from prospect

Skal Labissiere
Skal Labissiere has played for two high schools and three summer programs. (Kelly Kline / Under Armour)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Keith Easterwood has coached an AAU team with future NBA players to a national title, hustled prospects for former summer-basketball king Sonny Vaccaro, and met so many sketchy characters in three decades of operating on the periphery of the sport that Gerald Hamilton barely made an impression on him when they met about 10 years ago.

"Gerald never talked about trying to help kids back then," Easterwood said. "He only talked about bringing basketball players to the United States from Haiti or somewhere else."

Truth be told, Easterwood used to meet guys like this often, if only because his hometown of Memphis is littered with such people, the kind Easterwood routinely refers to as "hobos, heroes and street-corner clowns." Hamilton was, in Easterwood's mind, merely the latest. So they met but never got to know each other because, honestly, it's not like Hamilton had any players anyway, point being he wasn't, at the time, really worth getting to know.

Then, about two years ago, Easterwood got a random phone call.

"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?'"

***

The national signing period for basketball prospects runs through Nov. 19, and on Thursday five-star prospect Skal Labissiere, ranked No. 7 in the Class of 2015 by 247Sports, is expected to announce his college decision from a list of schools featuring Baylor, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina and Tennessee. No matter which program the 6-foot-11 Haitian refugee selects, sources have told CBSSports.com the NCAA plans to spend a lot of time investigating the details surrounding his recruitment, mostly because of the way Labissiere's legal guardian -- the previously mentioned Gerald Hamilton -- has handled things since Easterwood said Hamilton asked for advice on how to profit off of a player he knew would eventually be in high demand.

The red flags are numerous.

Since blossoming into what some have called a can't-miss NBA prospect, Labissiere has attended two different high schools and played for three different summer programs, all while Hamilton worked behind the scenes to secure funds for a 501 (c) (3) foundation called Reach Your Dream. 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."

Sources told CBSSports.com that college coaches -- none of whom have been permitted by Hamilton to contact Labissiere directly -- have expressed similar things to the NCAA, and that the NCAA is actively trying to find out how Hamilton is funding something he's calling Reach Your Dream Prep, which is a basketball team built around Labissiere, who needed a place to play his senior season after being ruled ineligible by the TSSAA once Hamilton inexplicably orchestrated a transfer from Evangelical Christian School (in Memphis) to Lausanne Collegiate School (in Memphis) and effectively ended any chance Labissiere had at winning a state championship and/or becoming a McDonald's All-American.

Exactly why Hamilton moved Labissiere from ECS to Lausanne is as unclear as why he had Labissiere play for different summer programs each July. But one source summarized the questionable moves this way: "Gerald's been shopping Skal since after his first year at ECS."

Hamilton did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday, and he has consistently declined to discuss Labissiere's recruitment with CBSSports.com. But Hamilton did speak with The Commercial Appeal earlier this month after the newspaper interviewed another Haitian who was brought to the United States with Labissiere, a refugee named Samuel Jean-Gilles. Though Hamilton told The Commercial Appeal his foundation has helped many young people, only Labissiere and Jean-Gilles have ever been identified, and two sources close to Hamilton told CBSSports.com there are no other examples.

"I don't know why Gerald lies about that," one source said.

Jean-Gilles lived with Hamilton and attended ECS for a while, just like Labissiere. But, according to The Commercial Appeal, Hamilton moved Jean-Gilles to Boston within weeks of asking the basketball coach and football coach at ECS if Jean-Gilles had the potential to be a Division I athlete. When both coaches told Hamilton they didn't think that was a likely outcome, Hamilton put Jean-Gilles on a 29-hour bus ride that left in the middle of the night.

Hamilton told The Commercial Appeal it's because Jean-Gilles was a "bad influence."

But literally nobody outside of Hamilton's family agrees with that assessment.

Everybody else describes Jean-Gilles as a quality young man.

"They [were] guardians for me and they don't want me anymore," Jean-Gilles told the paper. "So I guess he did what he had to do. ... If I was 6-feet-9, yes, it would have been different. I would have been [a Division I athlete], and he most definitely wouldn't [have sent] me to Boston. People know what he's trying to do. ... If this is really how he's trying to make money by using people, if that's really how he's doing it, I just feel bad for him."

Labissiere told CBSSports.com in July that skipping college and playing a year overseas before entering the 2016 NBA Draft is a viable option, and sources told CBSSports.com it will remain so regardless of what Labissiere announces Thursday. To that point, sources told CBSSports.com Hamilton has already tried to gauge what kind of market might exist for Labissiere by talking to people who work for at least three different sports agencies, and the prevailing thought is that Hamilton might rather steer Labissiere overseas than deal with what could be a difficult task of getting Labissiere through the NCAA's eligibility center.

"I doubt the kid ever plays one minute in college," said a coach from one of the staffs still recruiting Labissiere. "The whole thing is a mess. I just feel sorry for the kid."

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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