Coach Calipari has stated many times that the success of this year’s squad depends a lot on the play of DeAndre Liggins. If you consider how deep a doghouse Liggins once occupied, this statement alone says a lot about the redemption of DeAndre Liggins.
Liggins was the signature recruit of former Coach Billy Gillisipie. While Patrick Patterson was ranked higher, Liggins was the only recruited player from his class that came to UK solely because of Gillispie’s recruiting efforts. Liggins was a heralded 6-6 Point Forward ranked 28th nationally by Rivals and had offers from Memphis, Illinois and Kansas. He was on the track to star potential until he decided in a November, 2008 game to tell Gillispie to talk to his hand, and refused to enter a game on his Coach’s order. The Gillispie/Liggins relationship, for all practical purposes ended right there, and Liggins’ minutes thereafter decreased significantly. Once Gillispie began to focus his attention on beating up his players’egos instead of beating the other teams, Liggins departure was a foregone conclusion.
In stepped Calipari in 2009. Liggins did not find his way off the bench for 10 games due to undisclosed team violations, but when he finally did get on the floor, he brought with him a new found passion for hustle and a knack for grabbing every loose ball. By the end of the season, he was a valuable contributor and perhaps the best defender on a team full of future NBA lottery picks.
2010 has been a breakout year for Liggins. He is averaging over 30 minutes a game, chips in a quiet 10 points, is second on the team in assists, and leads the team in steals. The ill-advised, line drive three point shot that he launched his first year has been replaced by a soft, high arching pillow that makes its way in the basket 40% of the time.
But it is not his offense that is most crucial to this team. Liggins, by far, is the best on the ball defender on the roster. His combination of length, agility and speed, has placed him into early talk for SEC Defensive player of the year. He also provides an element of leadership and toughness that is often lacking on a team full of inexperienced players. There is no other player that Coach Cal wants on an opposing team’s best perimeter player in the closing minutes of a game. If he can keep up the defensive intensity, this team could go a long way in March.
Big Blue Lowdown Contributor