DeAndre Liggins — remember him? — is off to a good start in trying to accentuate the positive in his second year at Kentucky. He's made a positive first impression on first-year Kentucky Coach John Calipari.
"He is inspired to be playing right now," Calipari said as the fall semester began.
This follows a decidedly negative first season for UK. As signature moments go, Liggins seemed to be signing a deportation document with his.
UK fans will recall his refusal to re-enter a game against Kansas State in Las Vegas in November. If that breach of athletic ethics was not bad enough, Kansas State's strategy made it worse. Kansas State pressed and harassed Kentucky for 40 minutes over 94 feet. UK committed a whopping 31 turnovers and would have lost if not for the first of last season's Herculean efforts by Jodie Meeks. Hardly the time for a program in need of ball handling to have its designated point guard of the future turn his back on his teammates.
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Liggins' struggles as a freshman continued throughout the season, although never so dramatic in scope. Only those fascinated by car-crash basketball might recall a one-minute stint against Georgia on March 3 in which he dribbled aimlessly for what seemed an eternity — perhaps as much as 10 seconds — before throwing what used to be called a telegraphed pass. To use present-day lingo, let's say Georgia read the pass on turnover.com and took the easy interception the other way.
While speculation had Liggins gone after the season, he returned and seemingly thrives under Calipari.
"I talked to my family a lot this summer," Liggins said. "They told me to always try to be positive in how things are going for me. They're there for me. I use them as a resource and move on from there."
No doubt a sunny disposition helps in any situation. But Calipari said the switch to the dribble-drive offense made the telling difference.
"I know everybody looked at him last year, and everyone was saying he's out of control," Calipari said.
But the new UK coach noted how his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, used an offensive system that stationed big men in the high and low posts. That system emphasized a power game by getting the ball inside, which wisely exploited Patrick Patterson's skills.
It just didn't help, and even thwarted, a player like Liggins.
"You're a driver and (your) strength is putting it on the floor and getting by people," Calipari said. "And there's a man on the high post and a man on the low post. Everytime you start to drive, you drive into people. You start to look like you don't know what you're doing. Then you start throwing balls (away) and shooting turnovers. ...
"So I think he was a little misunderstood."
The misunderstanding apparently extends to the position Liggins plays. He came from Chicago, via Findlay Prep, billed as a point guard, which was a timely addition given Derrick Jasper's ill-timed transfer to UNLV before last season.
Calipari sees Liggins as a perimeter player.
"I feel good because I think I can play on the wing," Liggins said, "and I can play point guard. But point guard is not my natural position. It's a multiple position I think I can play. I think Coach Cal understands."
It seems Liggins, the point guard of the future, did not view himself as a point guard, or at the least felt confined when viewed purely as a point guard.
"He just put me in that position," Liggins said of Gillispie. "I was a point guard in high school. That was how he recruited me, as a point guard."
When asked if he saw himself as a point guard, Liggins said, "No. I'm an all-around player who can play more than point guard."
Liggins said he spent the summer working on his shooting. Five hundred shots in a session, 100 each from five spots on the perimeter. He made 36.2 percent of his shots last season, which included only 19.2 accuracy (10-of-52) in conference play.
But it would seem the dribble-drive, which prizes the ability to go by a defender, suits Liggins.
"I think it's going to be great for me," he said. "I just have to learn to be under control at times, try to be more poised and more confident."
Liggins cited a lack of confidence as a factor in his play last season.
"I knew whatever mistakes I made, I put myself in a hole," he said. "Whatever mistakes I made, I was coming out of the game."