Calipari did all he could to help Liggins, who averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game last season while shooting 39.1 percent from 3-point range, make an informed decision. Not only did Calipari put together a two-day NBA combine at UK last week for Liggins, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson, but he also solicited advice from friends in the NBA.
Liggins is not projected as a first-round pick in any NBA mock drafts, but some do have him as a second-round choice. He was the Yahoo Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the year and was named to the Lefty Driesell Defensive All-America team. He was also named to the NCAA Tournament East Region all-tournament team after helping UK beat No. 1 Ohio State and North Carolina.
“I feel comfortable that DeAndre had all the info that he needed to make this decision,” Calipari said. “I fully support what he’s doing and I will do everything I can to help him reach his dreams.”
It’s easy in many ways to understand why Liggins, a Chicago native, made this decision. He became a father during the season and he’s already 23 because he attended prep school a year before he came to Kentucky. He’s not from a wealthy family and grew up in a neighborhood where he said it was not unusual in pickup basketball games to have fights break out or guns on the court.
Liggins endured some difficult times at Kentucky, too, after being recruited by then coach Billy Gillispie.
He refused to re-enter a game in Las Vegas his freshman year after Gillispie had benched him. When Calipari took over for Gillispie, Liggins was suspended for still unknown reasons the first 10 games of last season.
Calipari, who had recruited Liggins at Memphis, was told by many that Liggins would not fit into his playing style or team concept when he took over at Kentucky. However, he insisted there were never any plans not to let Liggins stay at UK and Liggins rewarded his confidence with a stellar junior year.
There were still times when his antics drew technical fouls or he forced shots, but he became a dependable outside shooter, smart role player and lockdown defender. He also matured, did community service work and learned to interact with teammates more. His fiancee called him a “great father” and he literally had tears in his eyes late in the season when he talked about being inducted into the Society of Character at UK.
“Maybe now people will know I am not a bad guy,” Liggins said then.
Perhaps the most memorable moment in UK’s season came after Liggins hit the clinching 3-point shot to beat North Carolina and put the Wildcats into the Final Four for the first time since 1998. Calipari kissed Liggins on the head a few seconds after the shot. Or perhaps it was when teammate Josh Harrellson embraced him on the podium at the Final Four minutes after Liggins missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer that ended UK’s season — and his collegiate career.
Liggins won’t be remembered as one of UK’s all-time best players. He won’t be remembered as one of UK’s most beloved players. However, he does deserve to be remembered as a player who grew up, learned his lessons, improved, made the most of his opportunities and loved Kentucky.
Could he be making a mistake by staying in the draft instead of staying at UK and hopefully earning his degree? Sure.
Could he be making absolutely the best choice for himself considering the recruits UK has coming to go with returning players? Absolutely, especially since he got NBA feedback during the combine at UK as well as a weekend workout in New Jersey.
Liggins beat big odds to stay at UK and turn into a key player last season. Now he’s going to try and beat the odds again and show those who still doubt him that there is a place in the NBA for a defensive-minded player who can also hit a 3-pointer, rebound and value winning.