The University of Kentucky basketball program under John Calipari saw five players get selected in the first round of last year’s NBA Draft, and this year has another expected lottery pick in Brandon Knight. However, one guy who hasn’t gotten the hype of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins or Knight is DeAndre Liggins, who entered this year’s draft after his junior season.
Liggins has been Kentucky’s defensive stopper over the past two seasons, always assigned to guard the opposing team’s best player. While defense is what he’s known for, Liggins’ offensive game has shown signs of improvement since he first arrived at UK, as he has become a respectable outside shooter and has the athleticism to get to the rim. Had Liggins not been overshadowed at times by Kentucky’s bigger names, he would probably be much better known by those outside the Bluegrass State. I caught up with DeAndre at his Nets draft workout and talked about UK, defense and his draft prospects.
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Dime: You participated in the NBA Group Workout held here in New Jersey in May and got feedback from scouts and other NBA personnel on your game. How much did that influence your decision to stay in the draft?
DeAndre Liggins: When I first came here for the group workout I had a good showing, but I still felt like I had something to prove. Coming here helped me out a lot because I got to show scouts what I could do.
Dime: What did you hear from the scouts in New Jersey and before that workout that made you confident enough to stay in the draft?
DL: I heard that a lot of teams liked me but a couple of teams said that I needed to go back to school and needed another year to work on my game. I felt like I could show scouts that I could do more in workouts like these and improve my draft stock.
Dime: How hard was it for you to forgo your senior season at Kentucky, especially considering UK could be national championship contenders next season?
DL: It was hard. It was really hard thinking about that, but I was also thinking about my family, and my new child that just got here who’s four months old now. It was difficult not to go back, but I just had to stick with it (staying in the draft) and go with my heart.
Dime: What is your fondest memory of your time in Lexington?
DL: Definitely when I hit that three-point shot against North Carolina in the Elite Eight (that helped seal the game for the Wildcats to send them to the Final Four).
Dime: Describe what is was like to play in front of 23,500 fans every night in Rupp Arena and for UK. What did that mean to you personally?
DL: I was always nervous at the beginning of the game playing at Rupp, but once the jump ball went up I was calm. It’s a thrill to play in front of 24,000 fans every night.
Dime: UK fans are known as some of the most devoted in college basketball. What’s the craziest encounter you’ve ever had with a UK fan?
DL: When I was out one time someone wanted me to sign their sock (laughs).
Dime: At Kentucky you were known as a defensive stopper. Do you see yourself playing that role in the NBA as well?
DL: Yeah definitely. Defense is my bread and butter so that’s going to be what I’m known for in the League. But I’ve also got to improve my offense a little bit.
Dime: Who was the hardest player for you to guard in the SEC this past year?
DL: Probably (Vanderbilt shooting guard) John Jenkins. He is constantly moving and you’ve got to chase him around screens the whole time so it’s difficult to guard him.
Dime: You are one of the few people who got to see Enes Kanter compete this year in practice. Is he worthy of all the hype?
DL: Absolutely. Enes is a really hard worker, he’s a great competitor and he’s a beast on the boards, so he’s going to be a very good NBA player.
Dime: Coach Calipari has another star-studded recruiting class this year. What makes recruits want to play for him and for UK?
DL: Players see us making the Final Four or the Elite Eight and being on ESPN all the time. They see all the hype and love surrounding the program, anyone would love to come to UK right now.
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