LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Ashton Hagans leaned on Kentucky coach John Calipari when it came down to making a final determination on his future.
“I actually sat down and talked to my family members and we just felt like that was the right decision (to come back),” Hagans said Friday. “Talking to the coaches, it wasn’t bad at all. I just felt like it was the best decision to come back here and work on my game, get better and be patient so I can (reach) my dream.”
Although Hagans could have declared and returned, he didn’t “want to worry with all of that.”
“We’ve got one of the best coaches and one of the best coaching staffs (in the country),” he said. “I feel like anything they tell me, I rely on them or go against it. They got me here, so why not trust the coaching staff and do what they tell me," he said. "… We’re back here for Year 2 and I just to see what we can offer for Year 2.”
At times last season, Hagans admitted declaring for the NBA Draft is what is “on everyone’s mind” but added that “things happen” that altered his path to the next level. When it came right down to it, Hagans said Calipari “was with me with whatever decision I would make, if I leave or not.”
“That’s really all (the conversation) was,” he said. “He was not going to tell me what to do. It was really my decision at the end of the day. He told me what he thought I could be (if I came back). We always have a conversation. I can take this team to where everyone wants it to be, but there’s a lot of things I need to work on and a lot of things I need to fix.”
To reach elite status, Hagans knows what it will take to meet and exceed Calipari’s expectations.
“I need to work on my shot, finishing at the rim more, being a leader for this group of guys and getting into shape and things like that,” he said.
Being a leader isn’t something new to Hagans and he’s looking forward to leading next year’s squad.
“I’ve been a leader on all of the teams that I’ve been on and any type of sport,” Hagans said. “The environment, the fans being crazy and it’s just things that you’ve got to handle and know how to be a leader for this team.”
Hagans wants the newcomers to have a teammate they can depend during times of adversity.
“I had to grow up and try to mature,” he said. “Even when I had my doubts, the guys were out there picking me up. That just help me out a lot. This year going in, I just want to be one of the leaders. I’m just going to the gym and work so some of the younger guys can look up to me. So we can do something special.”
Hagans will have some familiar faces on the court next season with the return of classmates Immanuel Quickley and EJ Montgomery, along with junior Nick Richards. He’s also looking forward to playing with freshman Tyrese Maxey and said the team’s guards might feature “one of the best backcourts you all ever see.”
“It’s going to be a scary sight for other teams,” Hagans said. “We’re just ready to go out there and play with each other.”
As for his own game, Hagans doesn’t feel any pressure.
“I feel really good about it,” he said. “You know, I’m just here to work. Ups and downs last season in my game, so now that I know what I need to do, watch film, things like that, I just got to come in here and show the guys that I’m ready and ready to be a leader.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.