UK Men's Basketball

Ashton Hagans is turning off the ‘fun button’ in Year 2 at Kentucky

Marvin Hagans proved last season that it’s possible to be a follower (in terms of social media) and a leader (in terms of parenting).

With an ear-to-ear grin that suggested a mix of appreciation and amusement, Ashton Hagans recalled his father complaining about the Kentucky guard’s social media activity last year.

“He’d give me a text, like, ‘I see your post; I don’t see you in the gym,’” the younger Hagans said at the Kentucky basketball team’s media day Tuesday. “He’s always on me, but it’s good as a parent.”

The elder Hagans had a memorable way of explaining how his son can be a better player as a sophomore even though he was exceptional as a freshman, as evidenced by being voted the Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

“I have a favorite word I use with my son,” Marvin Hagans said. “I tell him all the time, ‘Son, you’ve got to learn how to turn the fun button off.”

Being asked about this fun button returned a smile to the UK player’s face. He said he has a “totally different mindset” going into the 2019-20 season. “I’m just trying to come back and just kill,” he said.

Hagans had several notches on his metaphorical belt last season. His 61 steals equaled the second-most by a point guard in John Calipari’s first 10 seasons as Kentucky coach. (John Wall had 66 in 2009-10).

Yet Hagans described his approach to last season as, if not laid back, then deferential.

“I was just trying to play my role, really,” he said. “Just see where I could fit in with the team.”

As for this coming season, Hagans said he had lifted his sights to include “something special.”

The elder Hagans said his son was “coming into being a man.” More responsible. More attentive to getting the proper rest and more dedicated to — as they like to say in athletics circles — his craft.

More confident

Calipari suggested the same.

“He’s even more confident defensively than he was a year ago,” the UK coach said.

More than once this preseason, Calipari has said that Hagans “gets it” entering a second college season.

“Every kid that comes in here, their first year there’s anxiety,” Calipari said. “At times, there’s — I call it — a fake swagger. You’re scared to death, but you’re acting like you’re not.”

UK’s recent history of seven point guards picked in the first round of a NBA Draft (and two more taken in the second round) in Calipari’s first 10 seasons can be daunting for a freshman. The UK coach said that can be true even for Hagans, whose assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7-to-one was better than five of his UK predecessors.

A second season can bring confidence in knowing “you’re trained to do it and grow like Ashton is right now,” Calipari said. “I mean, he’s got a different way about him. You can just see it.”

Herro impacted Hagans

One of Hagans’ teammates last season gets mentioned as impacting this difference. Tyler Herro’s example made Hagans re-think the time he spent on basketball last season.

“Seeing him be in the gym, it was, like, ‘Dang, let me try to do what my brother is doing,’” Hagans said. No longer did Hagans feel UK’s daily practice fulfilled his need to be in the gym.

Herro’s father confirmed how his son influenced Hagans.

“Ashton started (to) go to the gym with Ty midway through the season,” Chris Herro wrote in a text message. “Every night with K.P. (Kenny Payne). … I think Ty helped him (learn) what it takes.”

Tyler Herro further strengthened the bond by inviting Hagans to attend this year’s NBA Draft.

“Ty wanted him to experience it (in hopes it) makes him hungry,” the elder Herro wrote in a text message.

Hagans acknowledged thinking about entering his name in the 2019 NBA Draft. “You know, guys last year wanted me to enter,” he said.

But after consulting with his parents and UK coaches, Hagans decided not stake his immediate NBA future on the 2019 Draft.

The surprise was Hagans deciding not to even enter his name and go through the pre-draft process. After all, he had nothing to lose considering he had the option of withdrawing and returning to UK for this season.

Why not? “Everyone asks me that,” he said.

His father seemed to suggest the UK coaches let his son know 2019 was not the optimal time to turn pro.

“They’ll let him know when it’s time,” Marvin Hagans said. “You don’t have to rush things like that.

“He had some other things he had to work on. He just had to learn how to be a man, a young man. He had to grow up.”

Important upcoming dates

Oct. 6: Pro Day

Oct. 11: Big Blue Madness

Oct. 16: SEC Media Day

Oct. 18: Blue-White Scrimmage

Oct. 27: Exhibition opener vs. Georgetown College

Nov. 1: Exhibition vs. Kentucky State

Nov. 5: Season opener vs. Michigan State

Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
Support my work with a digital subscription