With what seems like the entire Big Blue Nation salivating over the possibility of UK signing uber-talented point guard prospect John Wall, Kentucky fans have relegated two current 'Cats to "back-burner" status. Point guards DeAndre Liggins and Kevin Galloway, once the center of Kentucky fans future-talk, have all but been forgotten when evaluating the possibilities of the 2009-2010 Wildcats.
The excitement generated by the potential inking of a top-5 recruit is certainly understandable. But, if the highly touted Wall decides to cast his lot with Duke, Florida, or North Carolina, this fan believes that in '09, Kentucky's point-guard position will still be manned by exceptional talent.
The reasoning behind my positive point guard outlook (regardless of Wall's decision) is three-fold:
1. UK's coaching change -- One of the maddening aspects of Billy Gillispie's tenure at Kentucky was his predilection of playing his players wildly varying minutes from game to game. Liggins and Galloway both suffered through this characteristic of Gillispie's coaching.
Example: Liggins -- 8, 16, DNP, 23, 12, 23, 34, 16, 19, 7, 9, 25, 8, 29, 3, 1, DNP, 1, DNP, 10, 12, 3 -- These numbers represent Liggins' playing time from the U of L game, until the end of the season. Galloway's minutes from the same time-frame -- 4, DNP, 10,10, 3, 1, DNP, 6, 2, 25, 3, 30, 6, DNP, 20, 18, 20, 8, 13, 12, 6, 19.
Whether the reason for the uneven playing time was because the player was yanked for missing a defensive assignment, taking a bad shot, making an inadvisable pass, or practicing poorly, the negative effect created by not knowing whether, or how much playing time one is going to receive from game-to-game, can play havoc with a player's psyche. It also reduces the chances that the player is going to play "free." In other words, playing tight, or afraid to make a mistake, is not conducive to a player performing at peak capacity.
One of the positives that have come out of John Calipari's early practice sessions have been that the players have been told to play through their mistakes. If Calipari continues to coach with that attitude, I believe we will see a more reasonable representation of Liggin's and Galloway's talents.
2. The system -- Calipari's Dribble-Drive Motion Offense is tailor-made for UK's two returning point guards: Both players are excellent ball-handlers, proficient penetrators, as well as good distributors of the basketball.
Physically, they both possess the size (Liggins - 6'6", Galloway - 6'7") and talents needed to become good-to-great points within the DDMO system. One only needs to take a look at the two guards respective assist to turnover ratio from last season -- Liggins recorded 92 assists to 74 turnovers (1.24 A/TO), Galloway dished out 51 assists to 40 turnovers (1.37 A/TO).
Not bad numbers when one considers that the players were performing in a system designed to FORCE the ball into the post, regardless of how many enemy jersey's were surrounding Patrick Patterson. Conversely, in the DDMO, Liggins and Galloway will be driving, and either dishing to an open teammate on the perimeter, or taking the ball to the rim. With a third option of passing to a post player who will be positioned on the weak-side.
As I noted, many of Liggins' and Galloway's turnovers last year were due to them forcing the ball into traffic -- Next year in the DDMO, the floor will be spread, resulting in their teammates being covered one-on-one a much higher percentage of the time. That fact should result in an even better A/TO ratio for the two points, which in turn will give UK fans a much more pleasurable viewing experience.
While neither player is a high-percentage three-point threat (Liggins was 12-51, and Galloway missed all four of his trey attempts), Liggins did make five of is last 11 attempts (45.5%). But, in the DDMO it is not incumbent for the point to take a lot of threes. The point, though, must finish around the basket, and both players did an acceptable job in that area -- Liggins made 44.7% of his two-point attempts, Galloway 48.9%.
Last year, many of their two-point attempts were taken in traffic, but in '09 they will be taking their man one-on-one on a spread floor, which should increase their respective two-point percentages. And if the post defender collapses off his man, the easy pass will be available to the big man.
3. A years experience -- As pointed out above, both players' weakness last season was their proclivity to force the pass into traffic, or to over-penetrate, i.e. their decision-making was not always competent. They at times played as if they thought they were still playing low-level competition.
But, as with nearly every freshman and junior college transfer, there exists a growth arc. Some players adjust to the level of competition more quickly than others, and in the case of UK's two returning points (and despite their up-and-down playing time), they both performed better late in the season, than they did early on -- In his last 56 minutes of action (over the course of seven games) Liggins recorded 10 assists to only five turnovers, and in Galloways final 37 minutes of action he dished-out 11 assists.
What we need to remember as a fan base is that college basketball followers have become spoiled in many ways by the phenom: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and a few others have tilted the scale of anticipation for freshman to a great degree. What fans need to remember is players of that ilk are the exception, not the rule. And comparing Liggins' game to the absolute upper-crust, elite of college basketball, is simply unfair to the young man. After-all, there was a time not so long ago, when a freshman (especially a point guard) receiving serious playing time was a major development.
Finally, whether the uneasiness apparent in Liggins' relationship with Gillispie last season was the fault of the player or the coach is irrelevant at this point, but my bet is that Liggins blossoms under Calipari and his system (for reasons stated above). If not, Kevin Galloway will be provided the opportunity to prove his worth by leading what should be an immensely improved Wildcat squad.
So, if John Wall opts for another shade of blue, or decides to partly-plug the sieve that is the Florida roster, rest easy Nation; the UK point guard position will be manned by two players capable of taking Kentucky back to it's rightful spot among the college basketball elite.
The Central Kentucky Heart Walk and Tailgate Party will take place Saturday, April 25th at Commonwealth Stadium. Registration for the event will take place at 9:00 am, with the walk following at 10:00 am.
Mike Pratt has set-up a #34 Mike Casey Memorial Team. To donate, or find more information, follow this link.
I want to wish a happy birthday to my brother Chris, and his daughter Chloe!! Chloe is celebrating her Sweet Sixteen, so motorists in and around Lexington -- You have been warned.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!