As first impressions go, Darius Miller made a winning one while DeAndre Liggins showed a growing comfort with basketball at the college level.
That's how Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie judged his two high-profile freshmen in their debut Monday night. Miller made tangible contributions in a 111-53 exhibition rout of Division II Missouri-St. Louis. Liggins looked more at ease in basically learning a new form of basketball.
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"He's starting to understand there are going to be a lot of guys out there running around quickly trying to defend what he's probably been able to do in the past," Gillispie said of Liggins. "So he's learning how to think and play at the same time. And learning how to play well with his teammates."
Translation: On the high school level, Liggins excelled. He became a national top-30 prospect. Now he has to use his skills to be productive on the college level. Of course, the task is complicated by the position he plays: lead guard, in Gillispie's preferred vernacular. He has to maximize his contributions in a team concept.
"The biggest thing is he's making major steps on a daily basis," said Gillispie, who noted Liggins' improving approach to practice and development.
To hear the UK coach, Miller is unusually advanced for a freshman. His numbers in the exhibition suggested the same. The pride of Mason County made six of seven shots, scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and was credited with an assist and a steal.
Statistics aside, Gillispie noted Miller's knowledge of the game.
"He's only a freshman and he already understands press offense," the UK coach said. "When he has the ball, he doesn't rush with it. Most freshmen are scared to death. He kind of knows what to look for, so he's not just out there playing or doing something because coach said this is what we're supposed to do.
"He's basically looking and reading the defense. He's going to be a really good player because of that."
Gillispie said that Miller had to play more intently, an area most freshmen must improve. As an example of Miller's growing intensity, the UK coach noted how the freshman hit the boards. Only big men Patrick Patterson (11) and Josh Harrellson (12) grabbed more rebounds than Miller's seven.
Miller credited Gillispie with helping him improve every aspect of his game.
"Coach pushes me to do different things and to play harder every time I step on the court," Miller said. "He sees a lot in me, and I think he's gotten the best out of me and he still gets more out of me everything."
As for judging the team at this early juncture, Gillispie suggested that it looked like a perceived area of concern might be in better shape than anticipated. That sounded like he meant perimeter shooting. The Cats made 12 of 29 three-point shots. Five different players made at least one shot from beyond the arc. And that didn't count capable shooter Michael Porter.
Gillispie also suggested that the first exhibition game served to justify his early optimism about defense and rebounding. The Cats limited Missouri-St. Louis to 30 percent shooting, and won the rebounding battle 58-23. UK had more offensive rebounds (24) than the visitors had total rebounds (23).
"Defense and rebounding are going to be really, really outstanding," Gillispie said. "Our depth is going to be outstanding. I'm really pleased with where we are."