He might be struggling with his shooting and turnovers. He might have even had confrontations with both coach John Calipari and teammate Nick Richards during UK’s loss to Tennessee that apparently led to him missing last week’s win at Florida.
Yet one former Kentucky point guard still believes Ashton Hagans is the key to what success UK has or does not have in postseason play.
“Ashton is the complete key to what we do any time but particularly in the postseason” said Roger Harden, a three-year starter at point guard for UK who set a then single season assist record with 232 in 1985. “Ashton has to look to get everybody involved and keep them all involved offensively. Control the pace Coach (John Calipari) wants him to play, and we are best fast and I do see him try to do that.
“To me, Ashton’s turnovers come from where he is a little conflicted about what his role is. So many players control the game through scoring but our best look as a team is him keeping everybody involved and then picking his spots offensively. When he goes in and maybe over-penetrates, he gets conflicted about what to do and that’s where his turnovers go up.”
The assumption after Hagans did not make the trip to Florida for “personal reasons” was that he would be back for postseason play based on what Calipari and UK players all said.
“We missed him out there,” freshman Johnny Juzang said after the Florida win. “We know he was cheering us on and supporting us. We can’t wait until he’s back.”
If he is back Friday when UK opens Southeastern Conference Tournament play, what about Calipari saying he didn’t mind Hagans missing 11 of 13 shots like he did against Auburn because the team could still win if he played defense, limited turnovers and had four or more assists?
“What coach Cal says publicly, I am not always sure he believes everything he says,” Harden, who still ranks third on UK’s all-time assists list with 498, said. “When he speaks publicly he is concerned about Ashton’s confidence and to me that comment was about that.
“When I see him shoot early in the offense it can throw the rhythm of the team off. The point guard has a lot of power and responsibility. All those guys have got to believe if I am open and moving he is going to find me and know what he will do. If they are doing that and not getting the ball, it stymies the offense.”
Harden said when Hagans took 13 shots in 31 minutes like he did against Auburn or 10 in 26 minutes against Tennessee it can negate what teammates might do who are more skilled offensive players. Maybe that led to some of the friction last week.
“There will be times Nick (Richards) goes three to five minutes and does not get a touch. If I am a point guard and want to win I get the ball to Nick or (Immanuel) Quickley if you need a 3 or (Tyrese) Maxey if you just need a basket period,” Harden said.
“Ashton just needs to consistently think that way. Our whole key in March is his attitude and how he controls the game. He is competitive and that might work against him and he tries to do too much.
“I am not saying he can’t score and go to the hole if a guy is overplaying him. If he’s open from 3, he’s got to shoot … just not early in the shot clock because he’s going to be open late in the shot clock, too.”
Harden said not to underestimate what Hagans can do defensively, especially in the point season when every possession matters even more.
“When you know you are playing a point guard who is really good on defense it changes your approach on offense,” Harden said. “Ashton can create defense off his offense and opponents know that. He can run through passes, pick your pocket. He has great anticipation, which can occasionally hurt us, but overall he plays really solid defense. If I was playing against Ashton, I would have a little pause about what I can and can’t do. That’s how he can disrupt a game defensively without you even realizing it.”
Of course, this is all dependent on Hagans actually playing this week like Calipari indicated he probably would after the Cats beat Florida.
Freshman quarterback Beau Allen has a simple goal for what he wants to get done in spring practice.
“I am going to master the playbook and work to get the best I can be mentally and physically,” the former Lexington Catholic quarterback said. “They teach the playbook in a great way here. I have also gone over a lot of things by myself. I am not going to teach myself anything, but there is a lot of stuff to it and the more you go over it the quicker you learn it.”
Even before spring practice started Allen learned the obvious lesson almost every college player does.
“The speed is the biggest difference and how fast everything goes every play,” he said.
He likes the bond in the quarterback room with coach Darin Hinshaw
“It has been great to get to know those guys and learn about them and their families and where they came from. I love all those guys very much,” he said.
Allen smiles when asked what it was like last season when UK turned to receiver Lynn Bowden to play quarterback and the Cats ran all over teams.
“We had one of the best players ever here to start playing quarterback and we didn’t struggle too much with how well he ran the ball,” Allen said. “It was great to watch them play and see Lynn do his thing every game running the ball.
“I would not say it was weird (for UK to not throw the ball) because of how well we did run the ball. It was fun to see us win how we did a lot of those games but I think this season we will throw quite a bit more with the guys we have.”
There could not have been a better time for Memphis junior point guard Kennedy Chandler to have made his visit to Kentucky than when former UK point guard John Wall — a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft — was also back on campus.
Chandler got to meet Wall at Rupp Arena before the game and discuss coach John Calipari and the UK program with the NBA star.
“He talked about how you have to fight for your position at Kentucky because of the talent on the team and that Cal won’t guarantee anyone anything,” Chandler said. “You just better go hard every day in practice.”
Chandler, the top ranked point guard in the 2021 recruiting class, said Wall openly encouraged him to pick Kentucky.
Chandler admitted Wall coming back to UK to support the program impressed him.
“What John Wall said made it sound like it would be a good fit for me and a good school for somebody like me to be at. I’m really glad I got to talk to him because he can share a perspective on Kentucky that not many can,” Chandler said.
Chris Fisher, CatsPause/247Sports recruiting analyst, said it certainly “did not hurt” that Wall was on campus for Chandler’s visit.
“Kentucky still has work to do with him. Duke was regarded as the early favorite and still might be,” Fisher said. “Calipari usually gravitates to bigger, longer point guards and he is not that.
“He is lightning quick and has other intangibles that makes up for not having extraordinary size and length. He’s really tough. He can do a lot of different things and excels on the defensive end. There’s really a lot to like about him.”
Kentucky fans at the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week in Nashville are going to have a lot of options to mingle with other Big Blue fans.
On Friday from 9-11 a.m. CST the Greater Nashville UK Alumni Club will host a pep rally at Yee-Haw Brewing Co. (423 Sixth Avenue) that will feature music by A Common Wealth Band and others along with appearances by the UK pep band, cheerleaders and dance team.
Former Wildcat Reggie Hanson will also be there signing his new book, “10 Life Lessons: Learned as a Student-Athlete.”
Cost is $20 at the door with children 12 and under free. Food and drink available for purchase and parking will be available at the nearby Music City Center Garage at 201 Fifth Avenue South.
Michael Bennett will be live on Friday at Sun Diner (105 Third Avenue South) from 7-8 a.m. CST. Then at from 9-11 a.m. CST Kentucky Sports Radio will be live at the Tin Roof (316 Broadway) and will be back on Saturday if UK wins its first game Friday.
On Thursday and Friday at 3 p.m. CST the Lee & Hayley Show will air live from Tin Roof on the second floor stage. Lee Cruse and Hayley Harmon always are crowd favorites.
Kentucky alum J. D. Shelburne is always a hit in Nashville with UK fans. He’ll have a show with his full band at Ole Red (300 Broadway) from 2-6 p.m. CST Friday. That means it will start about the time the UK game ends.
Quote of the Week: “Hopefully we’re in a great frame of mind going into the tournament. The tournament is going to be crazy. A team that can be 8-9 (in league play) could beat us, and we’re like, ‘What the heck?’ It’s nutty,” Kentucky coach John Calipari on the SEC Tournament.
Quote of the Week 2: “We have expectations here. We’re going to do things a certain way, we’re going to do things right. That goes for him or anybody else. When you reach those expectations and do the things to our standard, as far as going to school and tutors and workouts and you can handle your business, then you’ll have an opportunity to do it on the field,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on linebacker Xavier Peters’s lack of playing time.
Quote of the Week 3: “This is probably the most exciting March I can remember because so many teams have a chance to get to the Final Four and if you get there, you have a chance to win it all. People are not in fear of a Duke or Kentucky. There’s going to be a lot of upsets this year,” former CatsPause publisher Oscar Combs on the unpredictability of this year’s NCAA Tournament.