Liggins turns game around, now intergral part of UK attack

By: Steve Moss
By: Steve Moss

Arguably one of the most misunderstood basketball Wildcats in recent memory has to be DeAndre Liggins. A highly-rated wing player coming out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, Liggins was that one recruit with incredible length and agility that drew comparisons to greats like Scotty Pippen. With offers from Kansas, Illinois and John Calipari, then the coach at Memphis, Liggins was a recruiting coup for Kentucky, when he signed with then-coach Billy Gillispie. But his career in Lexington has had more peaks and valleys than a roller coaster.

 

Arguably one of the most misunderstood basketball Wildcats in recent memory has to be DeAndre Liggins.

A highly-rated wing player coming out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, Liggins was that one recruit with incredible length and agility that drew comparisons to greats like Scotty Pippen. With offers from Kansas, Illinois and John Calipari, then the coach at Memphis, Liggins was a recruiting coup for Kentucky, when he signed with then-coach Billy Gillispie.

But his career in Lexington has had more peaks and valleys than a roller coaster.

Early during his UK career, Liggins struggled mightily. Not something out of the ordinary for a freshman playing for such a high profile program, but Liggins left coaches and fans scratching their heads.

He clashed with Gillispie's coaching style. Once expected to be the starting point guard, Liggins attitude and play soured, culminating in the now infamous incident with his coach during UK's win over Kansas State in Las Vegas.

"My freshman year was typical. I didn't want to listen. I wanted to do it my way," Liggins said. "I put myself first."

Expectations aren't anything new to Liggins. Growing up in Chicago, Liggins said he was the John Wall of his team. But being a product of a rough and tumble neighborhood meant Liggins had trouble adjusting to Lexington, UK and Gillispie.

Raised by his grandmother in the Chicago projects, Liggins said her phone calls were his support system.

"She prayed for me everyday," he said.

But during his freshman season, when his game started to unravel both on and off the court, Liggins said coaches began calling his grandmother, in hopes she might get his attention.

"She used to get a lot of phone calls. 'DeAndre is acting up. DeAndre is missing practice. DeAndre is this and that,'" he said.

Liggins said the calls hurt his grandmother and she urged him to turn things around.

"She used to call and cry," he said. "And I'm like, 'I can't do this anymore.' So, my sophomore year, I just tried to change."

It helped that Calipari replaced Gillispie.

"When Coach Cal came, he said, 'This is what I want you to do. You do this and you'll get playing time," Liggins remembered. "And I did it. And I played."

And Liggins was happy.

Late last season, during UK's run to an Elite Eight finish, Liggins became a catalyst off the bench that re-energized his team. He led the Cats in floor burns. He became a defensive stopper and an offensive threat.

"I had a different role," he said. "We had great players and I knew that. I changed my role, got some playing time and I was happy with it."

Calipari suddenly had another weapon at his disposal and added depth at the wing position.

"I just wanted to come off the bench with energy and win," Liggins said, before adding, "I'm hip to what he wants."

Liggins said he's now happy at Kentucky, despite the constant reminders of home.

"Where I'm from, it's tough. People in Chicago don't want to see me make it right now. That's how it is. People want to see you fail. They aren't doing anything, so they don't want to see you do it," he said.

Liggins isn't going back to Chicago anytime soon. He said there's only trouble there for him.

Meanwhile, his game has flourished and his coach thinks he'll join former teammates in the NBA, if he stay the course.

"I've grown. That's what college is all about," Liggins said. "Learning from your mistakes and growing up. That's what I did. Don't do them anymore, move on and you'll be fine."

Lesson learned.

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