UK hoops, Liggins, and psychic powers

Yes, I know that we’re still 25 minutes from tipoff, but I’ve already written my column.

Okay, it’s a “placeholder.” It’s a column that will run in the early editions to hold the place of a column that, with any luck, I’ll file at the buzzer of tonight’s UK-West Virginia game.

Still, it’s a strange exercise, writing a column before the game even starts. Obviously, I can’t get into any game issues. If I could do that, I’d not be sitting here on press row. I’d be out in the casino.

What I did wind up writing about is last night’s situation with DeAndre Liggins, who, incidentally, is taking part in pregame warmups with the team right now.

Anyway, we’re still not crystal clear on the details, so I wound up just writing about the furor he created by not going into the game when asked.

So if you see a column in tomorrow morning’s paper that looks like it was written before the game, you’re one of those who don’t get the late edition of the paper. You can check back to this blog for my post-game column.

And for anyone who cares, my early-edition column, unedited, follows . . .

Liggins must learn it’s not about him

LAS VEGAS — If University of Kentucky freshman DeAndre Liggins didn’t know before, he does now: When it comes to Wildcat basketball, nothing that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

The governor could blow off work one day and it would create less of an uproar in the Bluegrass than what Liggins did in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with UK beating Kansas State in the second half of the Las Vegas Invitational semifinals.

Wildcats coach Billy Gillispie waved him into the game, and Liggins didn’t move.

Now, at the time of this writing, we have no explicit reason for Liggins’ behavior.

The closest thing we have is Gillispie’s speculation after the game that, “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.”

Without question, Liggins, who did practice with the team today, made several mistakes.

Maybe he was listening too much to the buzz that most of the Commonwealth wants him to be the starting point guard. He should remember that if most of those folks were coaching the team, the championship banner count in Rupp Arena would be zero.

Maybe he was frustrated at being yanked after one turnover less than two minutes into his first stint in the game while Michael Porter, a more experienced player, made a couple of turnovers in the opening minutes and remained in the game.

It’s safe to say that whatever the cause — barring injury — Liggins’ biggest mistakes were having a “me-first” mentality, and failing to respond to a direct order from the coach.

Most of Liggins’ first-half bench time was understandable, because the Wildcats were on a massive run. I can understand Gillispie not wanting to mess with the chemistry on the court at that time. Liggins most likely let his frustration cloud his view of what was going on in the game. If anything, he demonstrated why he isn’t yet quite the leader the Cats’ need at point guard.
Ignoring Gillispie is more serious still, but the coach deserves some credit for not blowing it out of proportion in public.

That’s something the rest of the state should take to heart.

Liggins might be surprised to learn of the public furor over his actions. He might be further surprised that the state’s largest newspaper, this one, published an online poll asking whether he should be kicked off the team. I was. Though I wasn’t surprised that more than 1,200 people had voted as of this writing — and Liggins shouldn’t be surprised that probably half of those clamoring for him to start probably voted for him to get the boot 24 hours later.

It’s ridiculous. This is still college sports. Freshmen still get to make mistakes.

Somebody even asked U of L coach Rick Pitino what he’d do if he had a player refuse to play, and he said, “I’d immediately throw him off the team.” He also noted that he might be more lenient on other issues, but if a player refused to play, “He would be immediately terminated.”
I defended Pitino when he was giving Derrick Caracter his tenth chance. And I’ll defend Gillispie if he chooses to move past this quickly.

Just last week, Gillispie said he “forgot” about freshman Kevin Galloway and didn’t play him the second half of a game. Gillispie apologized.

This time, it’s the player who needs to apologize. To everybody. If nothing else, the runaway uproar over this act should teach Liggins very clearly, it’s not about him.

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