Kentucky Sports Radio

University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.

June 26th, 2019

Everyone Is Sleeping on Ashton Hagans This Off-Season

Over the last few weeks, America has gotten swept up in NBA Draft fever.

Last Thursday the 2019 edition of the draft went down in New York, with Zion Williamson and a bunch of college basketball’s biggest names walking across the stage to shake Adam Silver’s hand. Then, earlier this week, the first wave of 2020 mock drafts came out, forecasting which players are projected to be in the same position next year.

In reflecting back on both things, what’s interesting to me is that there was a very important lesson to learn from the 2019 draft. And it didn’t show up at all when the 2020 mock drafts popped up.

That lesson: There is real value to being a productive college basketball player.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s that in a sport where we spend so much time talking about the star freshmen, the 2019 draft showed that the NBA still values upperclassmen – sophomores, juniors and seniors, who have proven that they can produce at the college level. Sure, there were the Zion’s, R.J. Barrett’s, Tyler Herro’s and Darius Garland’s who heard their name called on draft night. But there were also the Ja Morant’s, P.J. Washington’s, Rui Hachimura’s and Cam Johnson’s as well. Just one year after there was only one college upperclassman taken in the Top 10 (and at ninth overall, mind you) we had four go Top 10 in 2019, six go in the lottery and 15 go in the first round.

That’s also why it was surprising to me to look at the projections for the 2020 draft. Just briefly scanning them, the one thing that jumps out is that once again, freshmen dominate the early projections. Take ESPN’s 2020 mock draft for example. ESPN projects the first 15 picks in next year’s draft to be all college freshmen or foreign players. There is only one returning college player – Duke’s Tre Jones – projected to go in the Top 20.

Now to be clear, this article isn’t intended to be critical of the people who put out mock drafts – those folks do the best they can with the information that they have at their disposal. Still, if this year – and every year – proves anything, it’s that several upperclassmen will emerge over the course of the season and turn themselves into first round NBA Draft picks.

View this post on Instagram

Only time will tell?

A post shared by Ashton Hagans (@ashton.hagans) on

And with all that as a (REALLY) long lead-up, it brings me to this: Why is everyone sleeping on Ashton Hagans? ESPN has him ranked as the No. 30 NBA Draft prospect going into next season, and the other mock drafts don’t have him as a first rounder at all.

Which leads me to one simple question: Wait, what am I missing? I’m not saying he should be ranked No. 1 overall or anything, but you really mean to tell me there are 20+ freshmen who will all have better seasons next year than Hagans? It’s doubtful.

And if anything, I feel like Hagans is being grossly overlooked both by the college media for the upcoming season ahead, and the NBA media projecting their 2020 draft selections. Maybe it’s just me. But I fully expect Hagans to evolve into one of the true breakout players across college basketball this coming season. And very much into a high-level NBA Draft prospect by the time the 2020 draft rolls around.

For starters, Hagans has the pedigree of someone who could make the leap next season. Remember, it was just one year ago that he was ranked as the No. 1 point guard coming into college basketball, and a player who was projected by many as a potential lottery or first round NBA Draft pick. That was due to Hagans’ mix of size for his position, athleticism, skill-set and mental toughness. None of that has disappeared from Hagans’ repertoire, even if he didn’t always show it off last year.

No, Hagans didn’t quite live up to the hype as a freshman, but there are a few things to remember. One, he could have easily been playing high school basketball last season, and instead, chose to reclassify and join Kentucky a year early. Because of the decision to reclassify he showed up late to campus while finishing his high school coursework and was behind the eight-ball with the rest of the team. And despite all that, he still managed to earn a starting job by the ninth game of the season, a spot he never gave up.

From there, there were the typical ups and downs that come with being a freshman. Especially a freshman point guard. There were the highs, like a 23-point homecoming performance against Georgia, the breakout eight-steal game versus North Carolina and a 10-point, 12 assist effort against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. There were also lows. By the middle of the season teams figured out that they could sag off Hagans and force him to shoot threes, rather than letting him beat them with his quickness. There were also too many turnovers.

What’s crazy however is that despite a season which many viewed as “disappointing” he still managed to lead Kentucky in assists per game (4.2) and steals (1.6) while contributing 7.7 points per contest on a loaded team offensively. His assist and steal totals ranked him second and third nationally among power conference freshmen, and in the process he earned SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year alongside Tremont Waters.

To which I ask: Does that sound like a player who “struggled” as a freshman? Or one who simply went through growing pains, and could be poised for a breakout sophomore season? To me it seems like the latter.

Looking ahead to 2019-2020 there are obviously things that Hagans needs to clean up, specifically those turnovers. There are also things that he needs to improve, like the above-mentioned three-point shooting.

But can you imagine what Hagans could look like next season? Keep in mind Hagans already has NBA-level athleticism and size for the position, already did a good job of getting teammates involved last season and was already one of the best defensive guards anywhere in college basketball. If he can even incrementally improve in those categories next, he might be the best point guard in the SEC. And if he can improve in those categories and improve his jump shot and cut down on his turnovers? Now you’re talking about the potential to be one of the best point guards in all of college basketball.

Will it happen? Well, at this point it’s up to Hagans. The early returns from Kentucky’s summer workouts are good, but we’ll find out soon enough whether he was willing to put in the work or not.

Still, if Hagans does what he is capable of, look out.

We will have a breakout college basketball star. And a player the draft experts regret leaving off their 2020 mock drafts.

New survey results paint alarming picture of NCAA safety

Over three years ago, the Power Five conferences revealed new rules to better prioritize the safety of student athletes. Under these new rules, medical staffs around the country have the last word on whether a student athlete can participate in team workouts, practices and games, while coaches no longer have the unilateral authority to hire or fire athletic trainers.

However, new survey results from the National Athletic Trainers Association suggest there is still much more to be done.

NATA’s survey, which polled around 1,800 collegiate athletic trainers, found 19 percent of interviewed trainers believe college coaches have allowed a student athlete to play while he or she was “medically out of participation.” The survey also shows 36 percent of the trainers believe the coaching staff has been able to influence the hiring and firing of the sports medicine staff, despite the guideline requiring otherwise; of those respondents, 58 percent then reported feeling pressured by a coach or administrator to make a decision “not in the best interest of a student-athlete’s health.”

A big part of the issue seems to be connected with teams’ strength and conditioning staff and their current place on the “chain of command.” Although the staff members who design the players’ workouts do not have to be licensed medical professionals (while most athletic trainers do), strength and conditioning staff report to head coaches, not the trainers or administrators.

A new NCAA recommendation, which will go into effect August 1, changes that. Going forward, strength coaches should report to sports medicine supervisors, not the head coach.

“Coaches might question an athlete’s toughness. [They] might say, ‘She’s just not tough enough. Don’t you think this ankle sprain has taken long enough?‘ And those types of conversations are some of the more benign but impactful ways in which health care providers feel pressure,” NATA president Tory Lindley said. “A coach should not have any type of an opportunity to provide an opinion on whether or not those decisions are being made correctly. They lack the medical expertise to provide an opinion.”

When players come back before they are physically ready to resume competition, they risk greater injury. And while everyone wants their team to win games, no one wants to cause permanent damage to these young men and women in the process. The survey results paint an alarming picture of college athletics, but the approval of new NCAA recommendations shows the first step toward a safer organization. Now, everyone just has to abide by them.

2020 five-star center N’Faly Dante will visit Kentucky tomorrow, could reclassify to 2019

Photo: Cameron Browne/USA Basketball

Potentially huge news for Kentucky basketball in the upcoming 2019-20 season.

While we still wait for news on Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., Kentucky is set to host 2020 five-star center and serious reclassification candidate N’Faly Dante starting tomorrow.

Tipton Edits was the first to break the news:

Dante, a 6-foot-11, 235-pound center, is considered a top-15 prospect in the class of 2020. He currently holds offers from Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon, LSU, Oklahoma State, and St. John’s, though most recruiting experts feel his decision will come down to the Ducks, Tigers, Jayhawks, and Wildcats, no matter when he decides to play college basketball.

The five-star prospect has been a rumored reclassification candidate for several months now, though most assumed if he would make the jump, it would likely come down to Oregon and LSU. Sources told KSR back in the early spring that there was mutual interest between Dante and Kentucky, though the UK coaching staff originally preferred he stayed in the class of 2020 to help him develop his offensive game a bit further.

After a dominant performance on both ends of the floor on the Nike EYBL circuit this spring, though, Kentucky’s interest in bringing him in this upcoming season has grown tremendously. There have been several moving parts over the last month or two with the NBA Draft decisions, Jaden McDaniels, Blackshear Jr., etc., but Dante has always been a potential 2019 option for the UK coaching staff if need-be.

Now, it looks like that option is legitimately on the table.

Dante is considered the best shot blocker in high school basketball, regardless of class. In terms of his potential impact this season, the 6-foot-11 prospect would serve as a very solid rim-runner, rebounder, and interior defender off the bench, at the very least. He is a high-potential prospect with legitimate NBA size.

Here are some of his most recent highlights:

This could be big news, BBN…

BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Why The Top 10 Recruits Matter By The Numbers

© Brad Penner | USATSI

Since the Class of 2016, we have seen Kentucky’s recruiting mojo slip ever so slightly.  The most elite of the elite players have started going elsewhere, none more evident than the triumverate who went to Duke last year and Memphis’ haul for this upcoming season.  Cal used to feast on Top 10 players but now much of his classes are centered in the 11-25 range.  According to Rivals, he hasn’t gotten a Top 5 player since the Class of 2015 (Skal).  So why does this really matter?  Is there that much of difference between the guy ranked #7 and the guy ranked #17?

Well, for Calipari recruits, it has meant night and day.

Top 10 Recruits (21)
One and Done (16 of 21): Wall, Cousins, Kanter, Knight, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, Noel, Randle, Towns, Labissiere, Murray, Fox, Adebayo, Monk, Knox

Lottery Picks (14 of 21): Wall, Cousins, Kanter, Knight, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Noel, Randle, Towns, Murray, Fox, Adebayo, Monk, Knox

1st Round Picks (16 of 21): Teague, Labissiere

3 or 4 Year Players (1 of 21): Poythress

None of the Above (4 of 21): An.Harrison, Aa.Harrison, D.Johnson, Briscoe

Top 11-25 Recruits (17)
One and Done (6 of 17): Orton, Bledsoe, Young, Lyles, Vanderbilt, K.Johnson

Lottery Picks (2 of 17): Lyles, Washington

1st Round Picks (8 of 17): Orton, Bledsoe, T.Jones, Goodwin, Young, K.Johnson

3-4 Year Players (5 of 17): Wiltjer*, Lee*, Killeya-Jones*, Richards, Green*

None of the Above (4 of 17): Ulis, Gabriel, Montgomery, Hagans

In the Calpari era, 14 of his 21 Top 10 recruits have been drafted in the lottery of the NBA Draft, all one and done players.  That is a 2 in 3 shot.  On the other side, only 2 of 17 players ranked 11-25 in the Calipari era have been drafted in the lottery.  That is a 66% chance for Top 10 recruits and a 12% chance for Top 25 players.  Significant.  

Even getting drafted in the first round shows a large disparity.  Top 10 recruits are drafted in the 1st round of the NBA Draft 76% of the time.  Recruits ranked 11-25 that number drops to 47%.  

The Fox-Monk-Adebayo class was a Final Four caliber class.  They just got a bad break in the NCAA Tournament.  But since that time, only Kevin Knox has been a Top 10 recruit and the last two seasons have had their struggles.  It has still finished with a Sweet 16 and Elite 8 finishes but no one can say the season’s have not been grinds.  This season, Tyrese Maxey comes in as the #10 ranked player in the class.  Expect him, if the numbers hold, to likely be gone after this year and headed to the lottery.  But it will once again be the recruits in the 11-25 range that will dominate this roster.  What effect will that have on the season?  Only time will tell but if past history shows us anything there could be some bumps in the road in the 2019-20 season.