And he looked the part earlier in the season.
If you look at Hagans’ overall numbers, nothing really stands out besides steals per game (2.3) and assists (3.5). He’s averaging only 7.6 points per game and 24 minutes. But one has to consider how this season started for Hagans.
Oh my Lord, Ashton Hagans with the puppet on a string. pic.twitter.com/bFvCqnw0ad— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 16, 2019
He was the starter in the first game against Duke. Hagans, along with the rest of his teammates, looked rattled and uncomfortable. His debut was a letdown as he scored just two points, had zero steals, one rebound, three turnovers, and four assists. He didn’t look like a freshman out there; he looked like a high school player.
Over the next 10 games, Hagans scored in single digits or didn’t score at all. Including the Duke game, he averaged 3.8 points per game. He was also averaging 20.8 minutes and 1.6 steals.
In that 11-game stretch, something finally clicked for Hagans against the North Carolina Tar Heels. In that game, an 80-72 win for the Cats, he played 31 minutes, scored 7 points, and had 8 steals. He found a way to stay on the court and that was through his defense.
Over the next five games, which Kentucky is 4-1, Hagans is averaging 15.8 points per game (most on the team), 31 minutes per game (most on the team), and 3.8 steals per game (most on the team). He’s also distributing and taking care of the ball, averaging 4.4 assists and only two turnovers.
Hagans has been a revelation and has taken the steps needed to be the leader of the team. His teammates are starting to adopt his tenacious attitude as the Cats have improved defensively. He’s starting to find his way on offense, figuring out zones and presses. Sometimes it's frustrating to watch but he’s learning.
Ashton Hagans dribble drive lob to EJ Montgomery for the slam. pic.twitter.com/RTGUfThYQS— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 16, 2019
But we’ve seen this before with John Calipari coached point guards. Outside of John Wall, none of them have walked into UK and was 100% ready to go.
Brandon Knight struggled to find his place until SEC play. Marquis Teague didn’t blossom until the tournament. Andrew Harrison didn’t find his way until the SEC Tournament. Tyler Ulis was the backup point guard until his sophomore year before he took off. De’Aaron Fox didn’t materialize into a superstar until halfway through the SEC schedule.
And the latest example, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was the backup to Quade Green. SGA took advantage of Green being injured by taking the starting point guard job and never looking back.
When asked about what SGA did to improve, Calipari stated that he worked on his jump shot, would work out every morning at 7:00 am, and he even watched video of himself to find ways of improving his technique. His work ethic and his defense helped him elevate to Kentucky’s most reliable player by the end of the season.
We are starting to see the same trend with Hagans. His defense sets up his scoring. His shot is improving. He’s taken the reigns of the starting point guard, and he hasn’t looked back.
Ashton Hagans grabs the rebound and drives thru all five defenders on his way to the basket finishing with the flex. pic.twitter.com/aC4GfuStdE— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 16, 2019
Last year when Kentucky was struggling to get buckets, Gilgeous-Alexander was able to manufacture points by going to the rim. Hagans is doing the same thing. The big difference is Hagans has multiple teammates that can score and help while SGA was limited in help.
While Hagans is an important key to Kentucky’s success, he isn’t the only one. He still needs one or more big men to step up and shine.
Still, Hagans’ success isn’t new, and it isn’t surprising. He’s the engine driving this team, and he knows he has the confidence to take over a game if Kentucky needs him to.
That’s something Calipari knows a thing or two about coaching into point guards.
Ashton Hagans nails the 3 pointer to beat the shot clock. pic.twitter.com/ALgRwcnL3e— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) January 16, 2019