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By LARRY VAUGHT
DeAndre Liggins blossomed into a talented high school player in Chicago, but his life started changing when he transferred to a Las Vegas prep school. He found out he could survive away from Chicago.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I saw a life from a whole new perspective,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t around violence and bad people all the time. That got me ready to come to Kentucky.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He signed with Kentucky after considering several schools Ã¢â‚¬â€ he even made a visit to UK at the same time John Wall did. When he did pick Kentucky, he asked UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ramon Harris if he could have No. 34 Ã¢â‚¬â€ his brotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s number Ã¢â‚¬â€ and Harris gladly let Liggins have it. Liggins also had his late brotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s likeness tattooed on his right shoulder once he got to Kentucky to keep his memory close to him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It hurt (his brotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death), but I am kind of used to the pain and I wanted to do that,Ã¢â‚¬Â Liggins said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When he died, I knew he would want me to carry on his dream. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I have been doing for years, or trying to do.Ã¢â‚¬Â
There were rough times at Kentucky. He had that incident his freshman year when he refused to go back in a game for coach Billy Gillispie, the coach who recruited him to UK and then used him in ways that did not suit his talent. Liggins acknowledges he often pouted and even ignored his grandmotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pleas to change his attitude and listen to Gillispie, who was fired after the season ended.
He did something to get in new coach John CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doghouse to start his sophomore year and was not allowed to play the first nine games. The coach and player have never revealed why, but Liggins now knows that might be the reason heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the player he is now.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I learned a lot because of that. I learned to be patient, be humble and just appreciate God and appreciate family even more,Ã¢â‚¬Â Liggins said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a life-changing experience for me. You have to go through things. I have a tattoo on my leg that says, Ã¢â‚¬ËœIf you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t struggle you ainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to make progress.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my motto and what I can contribute and do. I have had more struggles than most, but I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let them stop me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Liggins had to learn to trust Calipari and his teammates. Often players tried to include him in outings, but even as a sophomore he was more of a loner. But after averaging just 3.8 points and 15 minutes per game for UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Elite Eight team his sophomore year, Liggins blossomed into a defensive stalwart and much more efficient offensive player and shooter as a junior. His toughness seemed to inspire teammates as well.
He was thrilled when his grandmother got to see him play in person for the first time last season. He was even happier when he became a father and Calipari encouraged him to make regular visits to Cincinnati to see and nurture his son.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That little guy means everything to me. I want him to have a better life than me. I am playing for him now,Ã¢â‚¬Â Liggins said late in the season as a prelude to another reason he likely felt more inclined to keep his name in the NBA draft.