This Kentucky team has only been through a few (official) practices, so trying to come up with one word to describe their identity isn’t the easiest task; however, I really liked Ashton Hagans’ answer yesterday.
“That’s a hard one,” the sophomore point guard said. “Special.”
What makes them special? For a defensive-minded player like Hagans, length, to start.
“We’ve got Keion Brooks, real long. Kahlil Whitney, real long, with length. With those guys as freshmen, what can they do on the defense end in the college game? We’re going to be real scary on the defensive end, that’s how I take it as. I’m just — this team is real special. We’ve got Johnny [Juzang], he can shoot it real well. [Immanuel Quickley] came back, he’s working very hard. We’ve got Nate [Sestina] working real hard, EJ [Montgomery], so it’s like, knowing that you’re coming out here and playing with these guys, why not go hard?”
Hagans took over as Kentucky’s starting point guard midway through last season and showed glimpses of greatness — particularly on defense — but, like any freshman, had his share of growing pains. John Calipari told reporters that he’s noticed a major difference in Hagans so far this year.
“Every kid that comes in here, their first year there’s anxiety. At times there’s, I call it a fake swagger. You’re scared to death but you’re acting like you’re not. And you look at this and you say, oh my gosh, John Wall and Brandon Knight and we could go on to all these 40 guys and max deals and Jamal Murray, and you look, and you here, I’m that good, I think. But in that second year, if you’re honest yourself, if you’re not delusional, and you know what’s expected and you’re confident that you’re trained to do it and grow like Ashton is right now, I mean he’s got a different way about him. You can just see it.”
“Just trying to come in with a different mindset,” Hagans said when asked what the biggest change is from a year ago. “Talk to the guys, be more vocal on the court and off the court. Just try to lead everybody the right way. Just show everybody that I’m coming in and trying to go harder at practice.”
Hagans said having fellow veterans on the squad like Immanuel Quickely, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards, and Nate Sestina just adds to his confidence.
“I can ask those guys some questions if I need to and they’re going to help us because they were some big time players for us last year. Coming back gave me more confidence knowing that I’m going to have those guys with me and they’re going to be out there ready to fight.”
Also helpful: an established path from a sophomore season at Kentucky to the pros. Last year, PJ Washington proved that an extra year in Lexington isn’t necessarily a liability when it comes to draft stock — as long as you put the work in. Hagans is doing his best to follow that example.
“PJ came back and he was working hard, finishing first in every drill, so I would just take those things that he did last year and just try to add it to my game and what I can do at practice to get better because I saw PJ do it his sophomore year. I’m just trying to come back and get better.”