Kentucky’s point guards are consistently pushing each other in practice and the results are evident in the box score.
We often hear about epic preseason practice battles. Those stories usually get set aside during the season, but this year one matchup in particular is paying dividends. Since the backcourt was trimmed in early December, UK assistant coach Joel Justus said the most competitive battles in practice are between Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise that those two guys are starting to go in a direction of positive playing time and productive minutes and efficient minutes,” Justus told the media Friday afternoon.
Quickley is figuring things out at the perfect time. Since the start of conference play, Reid Travis, P.J. Washington and Keldon Johnson have struggled. To fill the void, Quickley has scored 18 points, only missing two shots, while committing just one turnover and forcing three.
“The parts of our teams change. They evolve. Guys step up. Maybe some guys step back for a little bit. For us, the strength of who we are is that we do have depth and we have guys that are continuing to work,” Justus said. “You see it with a guy like Immanuel.”
Hagans’ emergence started a few games earlier. Over the last four games the freshman has stolen 19 passes while averaging 12 points per game. Justus believes Hagans’ work ethic led to his dramatic improvement.
“Ashton is a guy who’s worked. He works by himself, he works with other people. He’s a guy that takes advantage of all the coaches here, Coach Cal, Coach Payne, Coach Barbee, myself. He’s a guy that loves to watch film. He’s a guy that’s trying to always learn. I think that comes from having Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go through what he went through last year.”
The next step in Hagans’ development is on offense. An exceptional creator through the lane, Hagans’ greatest strength will be taken away if he does not force opposing defenses to play him honestly from the perimeter.
“We want him to be ready to shoot balls,” said Justus. “Guys that play here have to be able to keep teams honest…We’ve got to have five guys on the floor that are threats, and whether that’s Ashton driving and creating for others, him stepping into a jump shot and shooting one confident, that’s gotta be who he is.”
Each point guard has come a long way over the last month, but they still have far to go.