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Ashton Hagans one of four Naismith defensive player of the year finalists

Ashton Hagans (Vicky Graff Photo)

ATLANTA – Kentucky men’s basketball sophomore guard Ashton Hagans is one of four finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

The winner will be announced April 1 by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and will be honored with a ceremony at a later date.

Hagans, a 2020 Southeastern Conference All-Defensive performer and the 2019 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, made it to the semifinalist round of cuts last season but did not make the list of finalists during his freshman season.

He’s one of four finalists this season alongside Kansas Marcus Garrett, Duke’s Tre Jones and Baylor’s Mark Vital. 

Hagans was a game-changer on the defensive end for the second season in a row. The sophomore guard posted a team-high 58 steals in 2019-20 and was routinely tasked with guarding – and often succeeding in shutting down – the opposition’s best player.

“You’re not going to find a player that is better on the defensive end on and off the ball than Ashton Hagans has been,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas recently said in the middle of the season. “I think he’s the frontrunner for national defensive player of the year.”

With 119 swipes in 67 career games, Hagans is averaging 1.776 steals per game for his career. That rate is third all-time in program history, trailing only Rajon Rondo and Derek Anderson.

And even those numbers don’t do him justice. Prime examples of his defensive impact occurred late in the overtime win at Texas Tech when he sprinted the length of the court to deflect an alley-oop attempt and later when he swiped the potential game-tying drive off the leg of one of the Red Raiders. 

Hagans’ ability to disrupt an opposing team’s offense is as valuable as any basket or assist he can make.

“Lots of great defensive players out there, but I’ll take Ashton Hagans over all of them,” national writer Jeff Goodman said after the Texas Tech game.

Hagans was the consummate point guard in his sophomore season. He averaged 11.5 points, 6.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while grabbing the leadership reins of a talented but once again young team.

The second-year guard boasted double-figure scoring in 20 games, including a career-high 26-point performance in the win over Utah Valley. He dished out three or more assists in every game and recorded five or more in 22 outings, including a career-high-tying 12 vs. UAB. Hagans’ streak of 10 games with six or more assists midway through the season was the best run by a Wildcat since Roger Harden dished six or more in 12 straight from Jan. 11 to Feb. 15, 1986.

With 351 career dimes, Hagans ranks 12th in program history in assists. His assist average ranked 16th in the country and led the SEC.

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