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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.

“I saw a life from a whole new perspective,” he said. “I wasn’t around violence and bad people all the time. That got me ready to come to Kentucky.”

He signed with Kentucky after considering several schools — he even made a visit to UK at the same time John Wall did. When he did pick Kentucky, he asked UK’s Ramon Harris if he could have No. 34 — his brother’s number — and Harris gladly let Liggins have it. Liggins also had his late brother’s likeness tattooed on his right shoulder once he got to Kentucky to keep his memory close to him.

“It hurt (his brother’s death), but I am kind of used to the pain and I wanted to do that,” Liggins said. “When he died, I knew he would want me to carry on his dream. That’s what I have been doing for years, or trying to do.”

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 grandmother’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 Calipari’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 he’s the player he is now.

“I learned a lot because of that. I learned to be patient, be humble and just appreciate God and appreciate family even more,” Liggins said. “It was a life-changing experience for me. You have to go through things. I have a tattoo on my leg that says, ‘If you don’t struggle you ain’t going to make progress.’ That’s my motto and what I can contribute and do. I have had more struggles than most, but I didn’t let them stop me.”

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 UK’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.

“That little guy means everything to me. I want him to have a better life than me. I am playing for him now,” 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.

18 Responses to DeAndre Liggins credits John Calipari’s discipline for his improvement

  • UKFMLY says:

    “I’m playing for him now” I LOVE THIS KID.

    I know the entire BBN wishes him well.

    As a member of my all James Lee team I believe he will get to the league and make it.

    “If you don’t struggle you ain’t going to make progress”

    Knowledge beyond his years. He will succeed because NBA coaches know that in an era of premadonnas he will do what ever is asked of him to help his team . .

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. GO BLUE OR STAY HOME! ! !

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    And props to Ramon Harris for allowing DeAndre to have #34. Ramon was one of those unsung heros during his time on campus–a great teammate.

  • King Ghidora says:

    Larry I am not only impressed with Liggins but I’m very much impressed with your reporting. I get so tired of the jokers in the media trying to top each other and put each other down and what they do to coaches and players should be a crime. In fact there is such a thing as criminal libel but it is never pursued when a public persona is involved. You are a light to the world of the media IMO. You do it right and I’m glad you’re there doing it. Thanks. This type of story is what the world needs instead of the hatchet job style of reporting we see so often. Instead the headlines are about Tiger quitting a tournament when obviously the guy has problems that shouldn’t be fodder for the voyeurs in the general population. And of course the non-sports media gives us a steady diet of Charlie Sheen and other human train wrecks. I’ll bet none of those reporters ever had a substance abuse problem. And the sports world has it’s share of muckrakers. From the apology by LeBron to the incessant crying about how USC got the shaft and OSU got the bowl game. That’s actually true but where’s the outrage about Kanter? There’s only a story about the NCAA because a team from a media center got penalized. The same press tries to get players from certain teams (UK) punished even to the point of making up accusations and creating story lines that destroy lives and cost people real money and lots of it (Cousins).

    Thanks for doing it right Larry. Too bad there aren’t more like you.

    • larryvaught says:

      Thanks very much King. I try. But folks at this site are also the kind of fans who appreciate a lot of human interest type stories that i like doing and are folks who have a great perspective on what UK sports means to so many people

  • LindaS says:

    I have been a fan of DeAndre’s since he came to Kentucky although I was left wondering what the heck was going on. Why did he refuse to enter the game, why did he sit out so many games for Cal? After seeing him play this year we got to see the DeAndre who was always there. I loved watching him play and seeing him mature in his game and in his self. DeAndre had a very dark side, you could see it in his eyes. It was not an evil side, but it was the loneliness, the lack of trust and the losses he had suffered. I didn’t know those things when I saw his eyes, but it all makes sense now. I hope it is now behind him, although he will never forget what his eyes have seen in his lifetime. I too, King, am happy that Larry writes these stories. He doesn’t do it to out do some other journalist, to make headlines nationally, to reap awards, (although he has some well deserved ones) he does it because he loves these stories just as much as we do. They give us a insight into each player. They let us see they are human and not the gods we want them to be. It’s good to read the how’s and why’s, the x’s and O’s of the games, but I like getting to know the players and their families better. I too salute you Larry, thank you, job well done day in and day out. And I hope DeAndre’s dreams come true. Go Cats! God bless America and her troops!

  • TheProfessor says:

    DeAndre Liggins MUST write a book about his journey from Chicago to the League. His is a story that must be told for a broader audience than the BBN.

    If he needs a co-author, or a ghost writer, I can think of one prime candidate for that labor of love.

  • Suziecat says:

    I agree with Linda you could see hurt in DeAndre’s eyes. Wish him all the best with his NBA career and that wonderful family. DeAndre was a selfless player and that will bode well for him.

  • Lori Metcalf says:

    That’s a great idea, Professor!

  • Jburns says:

    I hope he can somehow make it back for senior day. When rondo showed up, it was awesome. I know dre and Darius have been through a lot together. I hope that idea comes to fruition.

  • Becky says:

    How can you want nothing but the best for DeAndre. Good luck to him in the NBA. Hope he keeps doing well.

  • Gilbert H says:

    Deandre has become one of my all time favs. You could see him develope as a player and a person. Great story!!!!!This means more than just winning a ball game.

  • Tana says:

    I so believe that the combination of love and discipline is perfect — that’s when raising children in a home, teaching in a classroom, or coaching in the world of sports. That perfect combination is what DeAndre experienced as he grew into a better player and young man under Coach Calipari, and, Larry, thanks for another wonderful piece that lets us know our players as young men (and women) with lives outside their particular sport. Too, Linda, I agree that Larry loves these kinds of stories as much as we do, but, even more specifically, Larry, as I see it, appreciates and loves our players as human beings, which is why he chooses to write them and why he does it so well. As always, Larry, you are THE BEST.

    Also, like Linda and Suzie, I could see that lack of trust and hurt within DeAndre’s eyes, and that’s why it’s been so wonderful to see DeAndre’s opening up and trusting and showing his heart and experiencing joy and love with his coaches and teammates. That’s why the moment when Coach Calipari hugged (and gave the kiss on the forehead) DeAndre after his game-clinching three that sent us on to the Final Four, followed by DeAndre’s facial expression that spoke volumes about his emotions about that encounter, is THE moment I will NEVER forget. Like UKFMLY, I so “LOVE THIS KID” (and it would be absolutely awesome for DeAndre someday to write a book about his journey, Professor).

    P.S. Karen, I so agree that Ramon Harris was an “unsung hero” and a “great teammate,” which was perfectly exhibited by his letting DeAndre wear #34. I miss that young man, another very special Wildcat.

  • Bruce says:

    I have always said and thought that Larry is without a doubt the best sportswriter in Kentucky. I try to read the online Danville AM about every day for Larry’s column. Keep the great human interest stories coming.

    • larryvaught says:

      Thanks very much Bruce.
      Agree with you as well Gilbert and glad so many folks enjoyed this

  • TheProfessor says:

    I think the book would be a best seller as well, after DeAndre writes the final chapters over the next 1 to 2 years. He must complete that journey to the league first.

    I believe this thought has already occurred to him, but if it hasn’t, Larry has established a record with his series of interviews that would provide a great starting point and chapter outline. Larry and DeAndre could complete the work.

    As for this old fool, I have always dreamed about participating in such a project, and would welcome that opportunity.

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