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No regrets: Liggins ready to live with NBA decision

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On Sunday, DeAndre Liggins announced he has played his final game in a Kentucky uniform. (Chet White/UK Athletics) On Sunday, DeAndre Liggins announced he has played his final game in a Kentucky uniform. (Chet White/UK Athletics)
DeAndre Liggins may not convince everyone that he's ready for the NBA, but nobody believes he's more prepared to jump into the uncertainty of the pros than Liggins himself.

A day after announcing he was staying in the 2011 NBA Draft, Liggins defended his decision of foregoing his senior season at Kentucky.

"I put in a lot of hard work at Kentucky," Liggins said Monday in an exclusive interview with Cat Scratches. "I overcame a lot throughout my Kentucky career. Everybody knows that. I think I'm mature enough to play in the NBA. I know it's going to be different than college. I'm going to be alone a lot and I'm going to have to make decisions by myself. But I'm old enough and I've got the support."

Liggins' decision wasn't easy. The draft process can be a fickle one, and Liggins said he was "50/50" after the Kentucky Combine early last week.

But after a combine in New Jersey last weekend, Liggins was told he was one of the five best players in the workout and stood a chance in the draft. For a 23-year-old who has overcome a tumultuous youth, a collegiate coaching change and has a newborn child, the window of opportunity was too open to put it on hold.

"I had to really think about my family and my son," Liggins said. "I just followed by heart, really."

Liggins said he received positive feedback from his workout in New Jersey. Although he didn't collect any promises from any NBA teams and understands he could still go undrafted, he's comfortable with his decision.

"There are a lot of teams that like me and will consider me," Liggins said. "There were a couple teams that said I should come back to school and work on such and such, but I just felt like I'm a worker and can do all that stuff at any point in the NBA. I'm a guy who likes to work on my game a lot. I'm a tough guy. I'm mentally tough. I just think guys who are mentally tough, who have a good work ethic like me, can be in the league for a long time."

Liggins knows his offensive game is still a work in progress, but he mentioned current players like Tony Allen, Ron Artest and Shane Battier as guys who have made a living off being defensive stoppers, similar to the role Liggins played at UK.

"I know I'm not going to be a superstar or anything," Liggins said. "I'm a role player. I was a role player here and I know my role. I know my weaknesses and I know what I can do well. I'm a guy who can play to my strength."

The role of a blue-collared, defensive stalwart is one that few, including Liggins, could have imagined after his first year in college.

After a much-maligned freshman season and rumors of a possible transfer, Liggins did not play in the first nine games of his sophomore season under Calipari. Some people called him a cancer and suggested Calipari rid himself of Liggins.

Soon thereafter, Liggins bought into Calipari's system, reinvented his game and became one of the best defenders in the country. Even now, Liggins said it's hard to believe he has this opportunity after the situation he was dealt with two years ago.

"Cal defined my game and told me what I was," Liggins said. "I didn't believe it at first but I started thinking, 'Maybe he is right. Maybe I do need to do this to become a better player.' I woke up and realized what I need to do to be successful, did it and it turned out to be good."

Whenever he looks back at his time at UK after his basketball career is long over, he said he'd like to chronicle his story of perseverance.

"I want to put a story together," Liggins said. "It would be a great story. It was hard, but it just shows that you should never give up."

Although Calipari suggested Liggins come back for one more season, Liggins said he received Calipari's blessing after they talked about the consequences - both good and bad - of making the leap.

"I told him, 'Coach, I think I'm built for this. I'm ready,' " Liggins said. 'I told him, 'Whatever happens I will never give up. I'm mentally tough and that's the only thing that's come into play for me. Coach Cal is a guy who, whatever you decide, is with you. He told me to finish up school and that he'll continue to help me."

Included in the talk with Calipari was the possibility of an NBA lockout. Calipari told Liggins he could come back, work out and finish school if there is a work stoppage next season.

"It's scary but it's part of it," Liggins said. "I've got to stay positive and keep working on my game."

Liggins said he didn't truly consider playing professionally until last summer. UK's run to the Final Four made his dream a possibility, and as he watched marquee players return to school and saw this year's draft class weaken, he decided to sit down with his high school coach, Tommy Dobson, and sort through the pros and cons of leaving early.

They talked about the possibility of building on this year's Final Four run and teaming up with next year's super signing class, which Liggins likened to the John Wall-led class of 2009.

Ultimately, as heartbreaking as it was to come so close to a national championship, Liggins viewed the Final Four run as a crowning accomplishment to a successful and storied career.

"It is going to be a deeper draft next year," Liggins said. "Where do I fit in? Would I start? Would I come off the bench? Would I be treated differently? I was thinking if I was going to go, this was the perfect time to go."

Liggins hasn't signed with an agent yet but said he's narrowed it down to a few people. Although he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, he plans on working out for individual teams and is considering attending next week's NBA Combine in Chicago.

"The process is not over," Liggins said. "It's just getting started. I had a good showing in New Jersey but it's not over. I could still work out for a lot of teams and, you never know, they could like me. My job is to keep working on my game and get stronger."

Regardless of what happens draft day on June 23, Liggins is happy with his decision.

"No regrets," Liggins said. "I made my decision and I've got to live with it now. I've got to step up to the plate. It's going to be a tough challenge for me but I'm ready. I earned every minute at Kentucky by how hard I worked in practice. That's going to carry on to the NBA."

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