By LARRY VAUGHT
Count me as one who is really hoping whatever kept Ashton Hagans from playing at Florida Saturday really was just a one-game situation and he will be back when UK plays in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday.
From all I know, there’s been no off-court issues with Hagans since his arrival at UK almost two years ago. From all I know, teammates have great relationship with him.
I do know he’s a tough, aggressive player who won’t give in to injuries when it comes to playing.
Hopefully being in Lexington, watching his teammates fall 18 points behind and then rallying to win at Florida was rejuvenating and refreshing for him like it was the Big Blue faithful.
“That is our brother. We love him. Can’t wait for him to come back,” Kentucky junior Nick Richards said after the game. “Love him and will be there for him. We just have to be patient.”
That did make me wonder a bit exactly what Richards meant. Or maybe I just read way too much into that.
One thing Kentucky coach John Calipari has never done is overly criticize a player in public. He didn’t do it last when Quade Green transferred at midseason. He didn’t do it when Kahlil Whitney bailed on the Cats in January. He won’t do it to Hagans and probably will never publicly discuss exactly why Hagans did not play at Florida.
Kentucky beat Florida because Johnny Juzang, Keion Brooks Jr. and Nate Sestina — players six to eight on the normal UK depth chart — all played the best at the same time they have in any game. Calipari noticed.
“It’s nice to now now we have a full team going into the tournament,” Calipari said when asked about that trio. “I thought Nate did some really good stuff. I am proud of these guys. I really am.”
Again, maybe I’m reading way too much into a simple comment but Calipari said he would have a “full team” going into the SEC Tournament and hard for me to imagine he would say “full team” if he didn’t think Hagans would be back.
I can’t imagine the pressure major college athletes are under, especially a basketball player at Kentucky. I also would hate to think of mistakes I made from say ages 17-23 all going public.
So yes Hagans has made too many turnovers, taken too many quick 3-pointers for me and definitely did pout in the Tennessee loss. However, I have never questioned his will to win or support for his team.
That’s why I think he’ll be back Friday and here’s hoping he plays like that Hagans that can torment opposing point guards with his defense and keep the UK offense running in sync.