On Liggins and playing time

University of Kentucky freshman DeAndre Liggins refused to enter last night’s game against Kansas State early in the second half when Wildcats coach Billy Gillispie called on him. Clearly frustrated, several UK players and coaches jumped toward him when it happened, but one of the assistants or a manager backed them away, according to one press row account.

It’s easy to misinterpret these things, but it was pretty clear that Liggins was refusing to go in for personal reasons, not injury reasons.

Gillispie seemed a bit surprised and disappointed after the game, but handled a question about the situation with admirable candor. He didn’t know what it meant for last night — or for Liggins’ future.

After the Alex Legion departure last season, there’s a lot of worry that Liggins could go the same way, but I don’t think so.

Gillispie has heaped praise on Liggins from the start of the season. He got more props from Gillispie after the North Carolina loss than any other Wildcat.

If I were guessing, I’d say Liggins was reacting to the quick trigger Gillispie pulled on him last night. Liggins was yanked less than two minutes into his first appearance, and I couldn’t tell whether it was because of a turnover or him failing to run a play that had been called. Might’ve been both.

Either way, I’m sure if you’re a frustrated freshman, it’s hard to swallow when Michael Porter can make two turnovers in the opening minute, yet stay in the game — then to be pulled just seconds after your first one.

Now, there’s no denying that Gillispie’s substitution patterns are unusual. He has admitted to “forgetting” about certain players during the course of a game, even acknowledged apologoizing to some for not getting them in more.

But in the case of the first half last night, I don’t think you can blame Gillispie too much for going with the players he had on the floor during a massive first-half run. You really don’t want to upset the apple cart when you’re on a 30-7 spurt like that, though I do think he’ll wish he had used more players when the Cats play their second game in 20 hours tonight.

Liggins is guilty of too much “me first” thinking. Instead of realizing the team was doing well and that Gillispie was going with it, he apparently was sitting on the bench stewing about being taken out and letting it grow into something that is bigger than it was — a basic basketball decision.

I don’t think this will escalate into anything more. Gillispie pretty much acknowledged what he believed to be the source of Liggins actions when he said, “it’s a freshman that’s really competitive that wants to play all the time, and when you don’t get to play all the time, sometimes you make mistakes like that. Hopefully it won’t be repeated.”

This time, it’s the player who owes the apology. To his coach and his team. While most anyone who has watched this team will agree that Liggins is the most talented point guard on the roster, decisions like this one show where he still has room to grow before he’s earning a majority of the minutes.

Gillispie’s tone suggests he knows where the freshman is coming from and is willing to move past it. But how much Liggins plays tonight — or moving forward — may depend on his own tone today.


6 thoughts on “On Liggins and playing time

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