By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Ashton Hagans didn’t think twice about returning to Kentucky for a second season.
“I didn’t really talk to anyone. I didn’t enter or test the waters, so I was just at home trying to get some work in and resting my body,” Hagans said. “But my dad was talking to some teams, but other than that I haven’t really talked to anyone. My motivation to coming back was just having a different mindset and seeing where I can help the team out this year and you know, just play my role.”
Going into his sophomore season, Hagans has changed his demeanor and approach and is ready and willing to do whatever is necessary to take the Wildcats to the next level.
“I’m a lot different with my mindset,” Hagans said. “I’m trying to do something special for this team. And show all my coaches that they can rely on me at any time in the game and just try to come back and be aggressive and lead this team to something special.”
As a freshman, Hagans did something special and developed a reputation as one of the best defenders in the Southeastern Conference. He was named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and is coming back with even more swagger.
“He’s even more confident defensively than he was a year ago, but I’m going to be honest with you, Tyrese (Maxey) is right there,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Like, you got two guys that can really guard the ball and really be long and really still block shots and physically sustain.”
Although one of the top defenders in the league, Calipari said Hagans developed a dose of “fake swagger” at times and it showed at various times last season.
“You’re scared to death but you’re acting like you’re not,” Calipari said. “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.”
Calipari added Hagans and Maxey “are going right at each other” in practice and admitted “it’s great to see.” Hagans doesn’t mind the competition, either.
“He’s good,” Hagans said. “He’s getting me better, I’m getting him better. I know we’re going to go out there and compete. I, Tyrese, (Immanuel) Quickley and Johnny (Juzang) go at it and argue every day in practice. We’re just trying to make each other better and get ready for the season.”
Hagans also wants to be more of a vocal leader and become more of a vibrant presence in the huddle and while on the floor.
“(I’m) being vocal, showing the guys the right way,” Hagans said. “There is no wrong way to go out here on the court. Cal is going to let you mess up, you just have to show him that you’re out here fighting and that you want it more than the next person.”
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.