Liggins Moving On After Early Clash With Gillispie

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- It was a moment that showcased every reason why Billy Gillispie wanted DeAndre Liggins to play basketball at Kentucky: competitive, stubborn and gutsy.

It was also, the freshman point guard admits now, a mistake.

Liggins can't really explain why he refused an order from Gillispie to enter the game in the second half of a win over Kansas State in Las Vegas a month ago. Maybe it was ego. Maybe it was immaturity. Maybe it was simply a freshman being a freshman. Maybe it was all of those things.

Whatever it was, Liggins said he knows that he put his career at Kentucky in jeopardy almost before it began.

"It was a bad day for me," Liggins said. "I had to get over that and coach and I see eye to eye now."

Liggins knows he doesn't have a choice, particularly after Gillispie made the unorthodox decision to not send him packing after committing what is considered by some the ultimate sign of disrespect.

The two had a heart-to-heart talk after the game and Liggins went out the next night and played 27 inspired minutes in a victory over West Virginia.

Gillispie called Liggins' performance against the Mountaineers "courageous," a performance Liggins didn't see coming when he nervously sat down with Gillispie after his blowup.

"I was kind of scared. But me and coach had a talk and ever since then we see eye to eye," Liggins said. "He was just telling me 'I understand why you didn't want to go in the game' and stuff like that."

Liggins has steadily worked his way back into Gillispie's good graces. He earned his first career start in an 82-54 romp over Central Michigan on Monday.

Getting six points, a team-high eight assists and five rebounds in 22 minutes turned out to be the easy part of his night. The hard part came afterward when he addressed the media for the first time since his Vegas vacation.

Backpack slung across his broad shoulders, legs shaking nervously as the cameras zoomed in, Liggins politely answered questions for more than 10 minutes and tried to explain himself.

"I just got caught up, I just got frustrated," he said. "I just wanted to play."

It's that kind of competitiveness that attracted Gillispie to Liggins in the first place, and the feeling is mutual. Liggins said repeatedly during media day in October that he loved Gillispie because "he wants to win as badly as I do."

Of course, refusing to play is kind of a funny way to show it.

"I'm just trying to learn the system and be smart with the ball and stop trying to make the home run play every time," he said. "I know I can get caught up in the high school stuff and I know coming here it's a whole new level."

He's also finding out about forgiveness, both from his teammates and some of college basketball's most ardent fans. Liggins only returned to the lineup after Gillispie met with the rest of the team, and to a man they told Gillispie to give the lanky kid with the easy smile another chance.

"Every freshman goes through that really," said guard Jodie Meeks. "Everything is new. The coaches, everything. It's all part of the adjustment. Now that the first semester is over and he has that under his belt, he's starting to mature. He's thinking now about what he has to do to help the team."

In Kentucky's first home game following the incident, a Dec. 3 matchup against Lamar, Wildcat fans gave Liggins a warm reception when he entered contest. And any naysayers were won over after he made two full-court passes that resulted in easy Kentucky layups.

And now it seems Liggins may finally have a toehold on the starting job he's coveted since he walked on campus. He leads the streaking Wildcats (11-3) with 53 assists and his tenacity in practice is the main reason Gillispie rewarded Liggins with his first start one game before a showdown with rival Louisville.

"He has good athletic ability, good strength, and tremendous length and has a great heart to play," Gillispie said.

He also has a future at Kentucky thanks to a coach that let what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas.

"It's a new day," he said. "Days go by. Everybody makes mistakes and as a freshman I made a mistake and I'm learning from it."

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