Saying Goodbye: DeAndre Liggins


Then-sophomore DeAndre Liggins plays defense against LSU at Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010. Photo by Scott Hannigan

At the beginning of the year, before games had begun, DeAndre Liggins was sporting stitches in his lip.

The result of an inadvertent elbow while playing a basketball game, the injury was less surprising and more fitting. Stitched lips almost seem natural when its on the face of a gritty and determined player like Liggins.

I expected Liggins to receive many more of those throughout the year, because of either his style of play, or by diving for his 37 loose balls per game, or by someone cold-clocking him because of trash talking. He never got those stitches a second time, but he still carried out those three defining aspects of his game.

Liggins was the ultimate player you only want on your team, and detest if he’s wearing another jersey. He would take you out of your offensive flow, at minimum, and let you know he was doing it. The steady stream of animated discourse had its repercussions: against Tennessee, the officials had to directly tell both him and Calipari that he was being excessive, and in the SEC Tournament punches were thrown in the tunnel after UK exacted revenge against Ole Miss. Both cases were quintessential Liggins: they may have been appalling or made your morals squirm a bit, but they were damn effective.

The streetball-raised Liggins was embraced for his tenacious defense. While UK had the exuberant John Wall and the boisterous DeMarcus Cousins and the honorable Patrick Patterson two years ago, Liggins held the most respect for me because of his willingness to embrace a lesser role, despite adjusting to a new coaching era and after being suspended nine games for undisclosed violation of team rules. Then, in his junior year, Liggins had the chance to progress as a player, and he did. While he never quite developed a solid offensive game — and that maddening Euro-step kept getting called for traveling EVERY TIME — he had his share of big moments, culminating in the three-pointer that sent UK to the Final Four (and, unfortunately, in the missed three-pointer that sent UK home from the Final Four).

But for all his merits as a player, it was his personal life that marked a deeper level of love for UK fans. If you are unaware what this means, go read this article, because I cannot relate and cannot do it justice. On top of that, he continued progessing as a person, coming out of his self-constructed shell to socialize with his teammates. While he was tough to coach earlier in his career, Calipari repeatedly pointed out Liggins as the guy who most wanted to please him.

It’s also this personal life that led Liggins to leave UK, against the (still unknown) advising of Calipari. He’s 23 (the same age as the current MVP and former Calipari-ite, Derrick Rose), and he has an infant child. It’s a decision we can’t hold against him by any means.

He may or may not make it in the NBA. A defensive-minded wing player has a place in the Association — Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies is the current model standard — but its a difficult niche to carve out for yourself. Calipari warned Liggins that he must be ready for the “worst-case” scenario.

Then again, Liggins knows all about worst-case scenarios, and look where he is now.