BY LARRY VAUGHT
Former Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy is now a SEC Network analyst and has watched Kentucky play often this season. He believes freshman point guard Ashton Hagans can be a significant factor in NCAA Tournament play when UK faces teams it has not played before this season.
“He is very disruptive on defense,” Kennedy said after watching UK again last week at the SEC Tournament. “I also think his offense has come a million miles. He knows now he can play in this league and he has some unique abilities. He’s a little loose sometimes with the ball but when he is creating chaos on defense and even on offense with his speed, you can live with that.”
Kennedy said before the season started he talked to the Kentucky coaching staff about Hagans and they were all “raving” about him and the ways he could change a game.
“I would compare him to (former UK player) Eric Bledsoe, who is maybe the best on-ball defender that Cal (John Calipari) has had at Kentucky,” Kennedy said. “Offensively, he’s really improved, too, he I think when teams have not see him he will get into the lane even more in postseason play.”
Kennedy says he never coached a player who can do the things Hagans can.
“I never had a player like him who had the ability to sit down (on defense) and stay in front of the ball any time he wants,” Kennedy said. “He may get a little exposed at times because he takes some chances, but he also really disrupt the other team’s offense a lot and that’s tough to prepare for.”
Florida assistant coach Darris Nichols says Hagans has learned to just make the needed plays on offense.
“On defense, he just defends. Nothing complicated. He just guards you,” Nichols said. “On offense, he runs the team and doesn’t take bad shots. He knows which shots are good shots for him and the team. He doesn’t try to do anything he can’t do and that might sound simple, but not every freshman can do that.”
Hagans says his goal in NCAA play will be to just “play my game” no matter what.
“I try to see how the other team is going to play me and then take advantage of that,” Hagans said. “I just want to attack. This whole year has been a great experience. This is my dream school. I came here to get to the NCAA, now I got to go fight every night because nobody wants to lose again.