Stars make their way into the NBA each and every year, and a lot of them happen to play for the University of Kentucky.
However, not every player that makes headlines happens to be a star. Even programs such as Kentucky that are notorious for producing top ten NBA draft picks, NBA All-Stars, and a limitless amount of those young guns that just make you think "Gah, the potential that kid has," also have players that are non-glamorous to the NBA world.
Just because a player fails to get picked first overall or average 20 points per game or even start an NBA game doesn't mean he's not going to have a great career. Guys like Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Patrick Patterson, and Tyler Ulis are all enjoying wonderful NBA careers after being labeled as prospects known as "Not supposed to make it in the league."
You don't have to put up 40 points in a game or make an All-NBA Team just to prove your doubters wrong. Players who simply get the opportunity to be a part of an NBA team and play the game that they love have defied the odds enough.
One player in particular, who never shined as a star at Kentucky and never found a true home in the NBA, has defied every odd possible. He has done it behind the scenes as a journeyman, and a role player that nobody had ever heard of.
From facing jail time, to D-League standout, to starting two guard for the defending champions, Deandre Liggins has come a long way.
Liggins played three seasons as a Kentucky Wildcat from 2008-2011. Going for the most part unheard of due to playing behind the likes of John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Knight, Liggins developed as a full-time starter for the Cats in his junior season.
While his stats weren't as glamouring as his superstar backcourt mate Brandon Knight, though a modest 8.2 points per game is far from bad, Liggins had an identity for himself. His improved perimeter shooting made him a capable offensive player, and superb perimeter defense earned him a chance in the NBA.
After spending his first two seasons with the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, playing in 56 total games and starting just 1, Liggins found himself in deep trouble. Growing up in the gang-violent streets of Chicago, he was no stranger to violence and horror.
However, in 2013, violence got the better of him. Weeks before Liggins was set to go to training camp with the Thunder, Liggins was arrested on domestic violence charges for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child.
While Liggins was able to get off with no jail time for the incident, he was cut by the Thunder immediately. With the exception of one game with the Miami Heat in 2014, Liggins didn't play on an NBA court for three years after that. His journey saw him play overseas in Russia and Germany for the 2014-2015 season, but Liggins found solace in the NBA D-League.
In multiple stints with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, an affiliate of the Miami Heat, Liggins was able to play and produce at a high rate for the first time in years. Liggins played two full seasons for the Skyforce, in the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 seasons. He was named the D-League Defensive Player of the Year in both seasons, as well as a D-League All-Star and All-NBA D-League Second Team in route to the Skyforce winning the D-League Championship in 2016.
Teams and scouts watching Liggins finally could see what they could get out of him. After spending three years in basketball purgatory, Liggins was finally in form to make an impact on an NBA team. The only question was which team would spend a roster spot on this prolific defensive player? That team would be none other than the defending NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On September 26th, the journeyman signed a deal with Cleveland. Liggins played in the Cavs opening night game against the New York Knicks, but mostly earned garbage time minutes. Then earlier this month in another game against the Knicks, after JR Smith was out of the lineup with knee soreness, Liggins made his first NBA start in 1,425 days. Liggins was so excited to be in the starting lineup next to Lebron James and company, that he nearly began the game with his warm-up gear on.
What was originally just a spot start for Liggins, became his new role on the team. After starting two guards JR Smith was announced to be out for 12-14 with a finger fracture, Liggins has made seven more starts for the Cavs in his absence. Opposing teams will never necessarily have to game-plan for Liggins as an offensive threat, and will likely never make the main headlines in the game recaps. Rather, Liggins is doing simply all he needs to do, and that is play great defense. It has earned him a starting spot on the Cavs for the foreseeable future.
In turn, Liggins is playing the best basketball of his career. While averaging just 2.7 points per game, Liggins already has more total points (60), assists (24), blocks (7), free throws made (12) and attempted (20), and minutes played (333) than in any of his prior NBA seasons. He just so happens to be shooting 53% from 3PT range as well.
Six months ago, Liggins himself wondered if he would ever play in an NBA game again. A life previously defined by violence, exile, and tragedy has formed into the ultimate dream. Liggins has gone from touching rock bottom to reaching new heights, and Big Blue Nation could not be any more proud of how far he has come.