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May 20, 2011

Son changed Liggins' basketball outlook

CHICAGO -- Bracyn Liggins changed his father's life months before he came into the world.

Now three months old, DeAndre Liggins' son is the single biggest reason his father is bound for the NBA, leaving the Kentucky basketball program after his junior year to pursue a professional career.

But long before baby Bracyn was born, his impending arrival altered life as Liggins knew it.

"When I knew I was going to become a father, my whole mindset changed," Liggins said this week at the NBA Draft Combine. "How hard I worked, what I did off the court, how I presented myself, how I talked to people -- all that came into play knowing I was having a son, because he needed a role model to look up to, and I wanted to be that."

Fatherhood wasn't the only factor in Liggins' decision to turn pro after three seasons at UK (despite pedestrian career offensive numbers), but it was the most significant.

Even with the need to provide for his son, though, Liggins mulled a return to UK.

The Wildcats return starters Darius Miller and Terrence Jones and sixth man Doron Lamb, a part-time starter at Liggins' position as a freshman.

And with the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class signed for this season, the Cats figure to be a national power in 2011-12.

"I thought hard," Liggins said. "I thought about winning a national championship and the team we had (coming back). I also thought about (NBA) scouts wanted to see my offense. Some teams said I needed to go back to improve my offense and things like that.

"And I thought, 'How would I do that if we got this big recruiting class coming in? Will I fit in? Am I going to start? Am I going to come off the bench?' All that came into play when I made my decision. Terrence (Jones) coming back. My defense can't get any better than what it is right now. I just thought I'd rather (improve my offense) at this level than come back."

So Liggins is focused firmly on a pro career.

Defensively, he looks ready. Liggins developed into one of college basketball's top defenders at Kentucky, and at 6-foot-6 with a 6-11 wingspan -- as measured at the Combine -- he has an NBA-ready frame.

Still, Liggins would like to bulk up to 215 pounds (he weighed in at 202), and there's still the matter of proving to NBA teams that he's gifted enough offensively to compete for minutes.

"I think my offense got better at Kentucky during the year," Liggins said. "I didn't have the ball a lot in my hands, but I think my offense improved greatly from the first two years."

Liggins averaged 8.6 points and shot 39.1 percent from 3-point range. He took 264 shots, and among the six UK players who saw the bulk of the minutes in 2011-12, only Josh Harrellson shot less frequently.

"We had other guys who were more highly-recruited and had more hype than me," Liggins said. "Coach Cal, he'd rather live with their mistakes than my mistakes."

Not that Liggins takes issue with John Calipari.

If not for Calipari, Liggins said, it's unlikely he'd be in the position he's in now, with an opportunity to play for a chance at an NBA career.

"He defined my game," Liggins said. "He told me who I was."

Now fatherhood is defining Liggins as a person.

Liggins doesn't see Bracyn -- who lives in Cincinnati with his mother, Liggins' girlfriend -- as often as he'd like. But he's changed diapers twice ("I hated it," he said), and was looking forward to seeing his son in Chicago once the combine wrapped.

"I've been missing my child," Liggins said. "I want to be there with him, but it's a process, and I'm trying to make it better for him in the long run."

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