LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ashton Hagans is coming back for year two.
Kentucky men’s basketball’s starting point guard in 2018-19 and one of the best defenders in the country announced Tuesday he will be returning to UK next season as a sophomore.
“We had a great season this year but I want more,” Hagans said. “I know I’ve only scratched the surface with my game and there’s so much more I want to accomplish at Kentucky. Coach Cal and the staff have challenged me since day one, and I know with another season at UK we can chase some special things with the same mindset. I can’t wait to get back to work with my brothers.”
With several decisions still looming from Kentucky’s 2018-19 roster, Hagans’ return will definitely bolster what should be another strong team in 2019-20. Hagans led the Wildcats in assists (160) and steals (61) as a freshman while starting in 30 of 37 games.
“I had a great meeting with Ashton,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “He had a wonderful season but he’s not satisfied. He said his desire was to come back and continue to grow and do some special things at Kentucky. That’s all I needed to hear. He’s ready for the challenge, and I’m all in with him.”
Hagans became one of the Wildcats’ most impactful players late in the nonconference season with suffocating defense. Embracing his role as a defensive stopper, he tied the school record with eight steals vs. No. 9/10 North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic (previously set by Wayne Turner on Nov. 24, 1997, vs. George Washington and Rajon Rondo on Feb. 19, 2005, vs. Mississippi State).
After the game, UNC head coach and Hall of Famer Roy Williams said of Hagans’ defense: "Ashton Hagans is 2 for 6, seven points, and I thought in some ways he was more dominating in the game than anybody."
The breakout performance would spark a dominating defensive stretch that transformed Kentucky into a national contender.
Starting with that UNC game, Hagans corralled at least three steals in seven straight games to become the only player in school history with such a streak (since steals became an official NCAA statistic in 1985-86). According to STATS, he was the first major-conference freshman with three or more steals in seven or more straight games since Wake Forest's Chris Paul did it 10 straight games in the 2003-04 season.
Hagans finished the season with 61 steals, tied with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the third-most steals by a freshman in school history. His 1.6 steals per game ranked eighth in the Southeastern Conference.
Hagans’ work on the defensive side of the ball earned him SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors alongside LSU’s Tremont Waters. He was also tabbed to the SEC All-Defensive Team, the CollegeInsider.com Kyle Macy Freshman All-America Team, the CollegeInsider.com Lefty Drisell Defensive All-America Team and the Athletic’s All-Glue Team. He was a Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year finalist and twice won SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
As Hagans' defensive stock went on the rise, his offensive numbers followed. He scored seven or more points in 20 of the last 31 games, including back-to-back-to-back career-high scoring days vs. Louisville (11), Alabama (12) and Texas A&M (18), followed by a 15-point effort vs. Vanderbilt. Hagans then topped it with a career-high 23-point effort in his homecoming on the road at Georgia. He scored in double figures in seven of the last 12 games, including twice in the NCAA Tournament, and finished with a 7.7 scoring average.
Hagans’ improving shot was on display at the end of the season. He made nine 3-pointers over the final 12 games after making five in the prior 25.
In addition to his scoring output, he led the Cats with 4.3 assists per game, which ranked seventh in the SEC. His 160 assists tied for the fifth most in a single season by a UK freshman in program history. Against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals, he dished out a career-high 12 assists, which also ranked as the most ever in a tournament game in program history.
Earlier Tuesday, sophomore forward PJ Washington announced he was declaring for the NBA Draft and would not be returning to Kentucky, ending a decorated UK career.