Kentucky's Gillispie has full faith in Liggins

December, 18, 2008
Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie is so committed to freshman point guard DeAndre Liggins that he foresees him being one of the top point guards he has coached.

That would put him in lofty company considering Gillispie coached some of the better college basketball point guards in the past decade at Illinois and Texas A&M.

Liggins, who refused to re-enter Kentucky's game against Kansas State in the Las Vegas Invitational on Nov. 28 after playing just two minutes in the first half in his hometown, is averaging 7.7 points, 3.7 assists and has nearly as many turnovers (35) as assists (37) this season.

"I think he's going to be fantastic,'' Gillispie said during his day on ESPN's campus in Bristol, Conn., on Wednesday. "I've had the luxury of being around really good guards like Frank Williams and Cory Bradford at Illinois, Deron Williams and Dee Brown at Illinois, Acie Law [at Texas A&M] and Fili Rivera [at UTEP]. I think he could be as good as any of those guys.''

Wow. That is quite a statement to put on Liggins. We'll see if he can measure up to not even an all-star like Deron Williams or a first-round pick like Law, but just a really good college player like Brown, Frank Williams, Bradford or Rivera.

Gillispie admitted that Liggins is farther behind than where he thought he would be and has had more turnovers than they would have liked. But Gillispie said Liggins has "more ability to run a team early in his career at this point, even though he has had setbacks. I see a great deal of potential and I see it coming quickly.''

Gillispie agreed that the Wildcats' poor point guard play was exposed early in the season against North Carolina. But Gillispie said that most guards may look vulnerable against Carolina and their experienced point guard, Ty Lawson.

The Kansas State incident is in the past, according to Gillispie. He said that Liggins was upset because he had a lot of people in the gym to watch him play. He said the competitiveness in Liggins took over and "he made a mistake and we've moved past it. It's something that he probably wished he would have done something different. But he's better for it, and the next day he helped us win a game against a very good West Virginia team.''

Liggins played 27 minutes, had three assists and four turnovers and scored four points in the win over the Mountaineers in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena.

"I really believe [the point guard] will be one of the major strengths before the season is over,'' Gillispie said.

The Wildcats will lean heavily on Liggins against Appalachian State on Saturday since junior point Michael Porter (2.7 ppg, 2.3 apg) turned his ankle in the win over Indiana this past Saturday. Both Liggins and Porter are averaging just more than 20 minutes a game.

"That's going to give more opportunities for DeAndre,'' Gillispie said. "We don't have enough depth right now, and we need to do a better job recruiting and assessing.''

The Wildcats signed a 2009 point guard in 5-foot-11 G.J. Vilarino out of McKinney High in Texas.

Clearly, though, the point will be a constant source of concern going forward with this team. The Wildcats have a big-time scorer now in wing Jodie Meeks (21.9 ppg) and a force in forward Patrick Patterson (17.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg), but need a true playmaker.

Gillispie was incredibly optimistic about this season despite two unexpected home losses (it's hard to count the Carolina one as being unexpected). One of the home losses was to VMI, which was totally unexpected, the other one was to Miami -- a team that will be in the top 25 for parts of the season and a likely NCAA team.

The Wildcats will likely (although it's hard to say there are any givens anymore) load up on nonconference wins for four more games (Appalachian State, Tennessee State, Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan) before going to Louisville on Jan. 4 and then opening the SEC on Jan. 10 against Vanderbilt.

"Our team will be a real nice team before it's done,'' Gillispie said.

A year ago, the Wildcats struggled outside their conference and then won 12 SEC games. So far, at 7-3 the Wildcats are in better shape -- at least recordwise -- than a year ago going into league play next month.

• Gillispie would like to see some scheduling shifts. The Wildcats still have three locks for next season in return games with Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina. He said it won't happen, but if it were up to him, he would play only schools from the "big six" conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC) and wouldn't play guaranteed games.

But he said he knows that not everyone would want to come to Lexington without a return game. (He wouldn't, for example, go straight home-and-home with Rutgers.)

• Gillispie would like to see the Big East/SEC Invitational go to one site -- Atlanta perhaps -- for a Saturday-Sunday format with 12 teams from each conference. That would mean the four other teams from the Big East would have to rotate each year. I agree that it has to be something like this or go to straight campus sites. The neutral-site format isn't working. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said the same thing Thursday morning. He'd like to see it be moved to campus sites.

• Gillispie said he's been told Kentucky is likely headed to New York for the Big East/SEC Invitational next year if dates can be worked out. But that's a big "if" in this event.

• Pearl said wing J.P. Prince will be back in the lineup when the Vols host Belmont on Saturday after he missed the past two games -- a loss at Temple and a win over Marquette in Nashville, Tenn. -- with a sprained ankle. Pearl said the Vols desperately needed the win over Marquette as a confidence booster after falling flat in "big games" against Gonzaga in the final of the Old Spice Classic at Disney and at Temple.

• UConn coach Jim Calhoun and six or seven players had to fly separately to Seattle from Newark, N.J., because their flight was canceled. Bad weather in Seattle is now holding up the rest of the Huskies who went from Newark to Phoenix to Seattle (the team had to bus to Newark after a flight was canceled in Hartford).

Meanwhile, there is about two feet of snow in Spokane and the Zags play Texas Southern tonight. So Gonzaga could have issues getting to Seattle on Friday for the Saturday game.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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