CLEVELAND, OH (TM216) – Some of us have dreams of playing the sport we love, growing up watching the long road to success of some of our favorite sports players. What the casual fan does not see are the peaks and valleys that come with the road to making it to the top. For Cleveland Cavaliers forward DeAndre Liggins, the road to live his basketball dream was anything but easy.
Liggins, born in Chicago, Illinois, is a product of the University of Kentucky, where he played under Coach John Calipari for two seasons. He also played at George Washington High School in Chicago as a junior, before transferring to Findley College Prep to prepare for the NBA game. Liggins had all the tools to be a great player, that Coach Calipari once said that “his unbelievable effort is starting to rub off on his teammates,” according to his biography on Kentucky basketball’s website.
As Liggins was just growing up as a teen in 2002, tragedy struck when his brother, 18-year-old Maurice Davis, a college basketball prodigy, was shot and killed following a schoolyard fistfight regarding a domestic dispute. Liggins, only 14 years old at the time, just lost his father a few months prior due to a diabetic coma. He grew up in a tough environment in the south side of Chicago with his grandmother, where high school coaches were told that he would never graduate, due to academic issues. After losing his best friend to violence, Liggins felt like he had no other choice but to carry on his brother’s legacy.
“I felt like I was alone,” said Liggins to Yahoo Sports. “When he died, I felt like I had to carry on his dream. This is what he wanted to do. I’m living his dream for him. Hopefully I’ll make him proud.”
Liggins did everything to make his brother proud, from having his brother teach him to dribble by posting up a small plastic basketball hoop on a closet door, to wearing his No. 34 at Kentucky to honor is brother, he was playing in his brother’s honor. To start his career, he was a star from the get-go at George Washington, posting a stat line of 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. In the 2011 Elite Eight, Liggins hit the late 3-pointer against North Carolina to catapult Kentucky to its first Final Four apperance since 1998. The kid had a special talent and was bound to play in the NBA.
After impressing several teams with his gritty style of play, Liggins was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2011. In his first season, he struggled mightily to adjust to the NBA game. In 2012, then was picked up by the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he received praise from superstar Kevin Durant. “He’s a workhorse, man. I love him.” said Durant to SI.com. “You can tell he’s a guy that’s tough and has been that way his whole life.”
After the 2013 season, it was tough for Liggins to find a home. He was involved in a domestic violence case, that led to several trips to the NBA D-League to continue to work on his craft and take care of his off the court problems. Fast forward to 2016, Liggins was signed by the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers and took the 15th roster spot over veteran guard Dahntay Jones.
The Cavaliers were without a true backup point guard, as Matthew Dellavedova signed with the Milwaukee Bucks for a long-term contract. That’s where young forward DeAndre Liggins stepped in.
At the quarter season point, guard J.R. Smith broke his thumb and was subjected to return in 3-4 months. Liggins had proven to coach Tyronn Lue he was worth the last spot on the roster. He also had to show superstar LeBron James he could play the game.
In his starting role with the Cavaliers at shooting guard, Liggins has been a gritty pest to opposing teams. In the Cavaliers rematch against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, Liggins was assigned to guard superstar point guard Stephen Curry. Curry only shot 4-11 for 15 points with three turnovers. Liggins was in Curry’s face the entire night.
The Cavaliers’ defense has also mightily stepped up since Liggins was moved into the starting lineup, boasting a 100.5 defensive rating. The defense is important for the Cavs, especially when dealing with injuries and illnesses to several other key players. Liggins’ ability to play with the Cavaliers at a fast pace caught the eye of James.
“Right now he’s doing what he is comfortable with doing and what he’s comfortable with doing is picking somebody up 96 feet,” said James to local reporters. “The court is only 94 [feet].”
James compared Liggins to Dellavedova, and how ‘Delly’ found his role with the team and stuck with it. “It’s been a diamond in the rough for us and we are happy to have him.”
As Liggins’ career progressed, the one positive factor in his mind was how could he play the game of basketball, in honor of his brother, but still deal with the pressures of making it to the NBA?
The kid from Chicago, Illinois, that nobody said would make it, is on the biggest stage of them all, with the reigning NBA champions, and loves his role. Liggins has overcome many odds in his life, but is always grateful for the chance the Cavaliers gave him. That’s all he wanted. A chance to the play the game he was born to play.
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