Sports

Liggins situation just part of puzzle that is Billy G.

John Clay
John Clay

Billy Gillispie has a one-track mind.

That's it.

He is all about winning basketball games.

That must be it.

That's why the Kentucky basketball coach played DeAndre Liggins 27 minutes Saturday night against West Virginia in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational, after the sulking freshman, upset about playing time, declined to enter the game in the second half the night before.

After all, the Cats committed a ghastly 31 turnovers in that two-point win over Kansas State — the one in which Liggins declined to take part. On a team shockingly bereft of ball-handlers, Gillispie figured (correctly) he might need any and all possible options against the Mountaineers.

Thus Billy G. and his team were willing to overlook Liggins' Friday brush with adolescent insubordination.

Billy wanted to win.

End of story.

Or is it?

After all, this is one more example of Billy G. being more like Billy C.

C for Conundrum.

(You were thinking C as in crazy, perhaps?)

After all, who would have thought the hard-as-nails coach who loves to push-push-push would retreat so quickly after one of his players so publicly disobeyed one of his orders?

Who would have thought that the coach who had so many of his players fight through pain — perhaps you read where Derrick Jasper said his ailing knee was actually 40 to 50 percent last year — would call Liggins "courageous" for actually honoring Gillispie's request to enter the game on Saturday?

Yes, on the face of it, Gillispie's use of Liggins on Saturday appeared to be the usual win-justifies-the-means mentality utilized too often today. Players win games. Liggins has the potential to be a player. So, instead of Gillispie telling Liggins to hit the highway, we heard about youth, and everyone makes mistakes, and the team understands, and let's move on.

Our cynical side sees Billy G. as the act-now, worry-later coach. That eighth-grader that Gillispie fell in love with while watching at a camp, he's got to have him — now! But what if the kid doesn't develop? He'll worry about that later. What if there are other recruits you might like better down the road? He'll worry about that later.

So what if, as with Liggins, another disgruntled Cat tells the coach to find someone else to check in at the scorer's table. What happens then? He'll worry about that then.

But just when you're ready to fault Gillispie's short-term mind-set, you are reminded that this is a coach who won't play a zone defense because he wants his team to learn man-to-man for the long term. This is a coach who won't back off his game-day ritual of tough pre-game practices because he wants his team to be strong for the long term.

This is a coach who all but sacrificed a few early games last season because he wanted Joe Crawford to finally, ultimately, forever learn that you have to play all-out, all the time if you want to make it in the long term.

Or maybe Gillispie is that tough, demanding, sarcastic, domineering coach who pushes his players to the point where they have no choice but to push back.

And when one does push back, Gillispie is smart enough to realize he's pushed too far.

See, this guy really is quite the conundrum.

So if 99 out of 100 coaches would have found DeAndre Liggins a seat on an outbound bus, much less the bench, after that Friday night fit of pique, we should have known that our very own Billy C. would be the one coach to find him a spot on the floor.

His mind has many tracks.

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