"He was a commander at the position," the UK coach said. "That’s the best we’ve seen, maybe, in the two years I’ve been here." Liggins provided "an offensive and defensive presence we probably had not had in two years for a good portion of the time," Gillispie said.
I've now read about 27 stories on the DeAndre Liggins mini-controversy and each time, Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie is back-handedly praised for getting the most out of his disgruntled player while allowing a freshman -- albeit a 21-year-old freshman -- to walk all over him.
I'll admit that at first glance Gillispie's move is a strange one. For a widely acknowledged disciplinarian, letting such a flagrant flouting of the unwritten rules of a team go not only unpunished but seemingly rewarded is baffling. What's to stop someone else from giving Coach the bird from the bench when they don't get their milk and cookies next time?
I suppose the answer is: nothing.
And yet, what do players want as much if not more than coaches? To win, and to look good doing it. This is evidenced by the players' apparently unanimous vote to keep Liggins on the team and in the regular rotation. And sure enough, with him stripping opponents of the ball and driving the offense the Cats stormed back from seemingly dead to grab a huge "gut" win over West Virginia in Las Vegas.
Gillispie is a stubborn guy, but he's not a stupid one. He knows that Kentucky's season hinges on Liggins' development into a 30-minute player. So does Liggins. So what you're seeing in Gillispie's quotes and dealings with the skeptical Kentucky media is a clear example of coaching through the paper.
We should be used to it, having had Rick Pitino, one of the game's master media manipulators, honing his dark art for eight years. Though his successor was about as inept at it as his power forwards mostly were at blocking out. But I digress...
Anyone watching at home honestly believe that Liggins "provided 'an offensive and defensive presence we probably had not had in two years'"? He was good, and way better than anything seen this season, sure. But that four-point, two rebound second-half performance was hardly the second coming of Deron Williams. That's just coachspeak.
But good coachspeak. And necessary. Because the leash is short. Coach has to know it, and hopefully Mr. Liggins will remember it. Because one more moment of childlike over-indulgence from his 21-year-old freshman will likely be the last one. Gillispie the coach will take some heat for "caving" to his petulant point guard once, but Gillispie the man won't accept being anyone's bitch twice, especially not a player pining for attention.