In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 14 overall recruit, Kentucky's Ashton Hagans. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What he means for the Wildcats' recruiting class
Five-star point guard Ashton Hagans is our second of Kentucky’s four top-25 recruits, coming in at No. 14 in the RSCI rankings. Hagans was committed to Kentucky’s 2019 class as of April, but reclassified to join John Calipari’s 2018 class in June. Originally committed to Georgia, Hagans has been all over the place when it comes to figuring out his college career. But the Wildcat has now officially joined Calipari in Lexington, and he’s done so sooner than expected—something you can be sure the famed Kentucky coach excited about. The five-star guard from Georgia slots as the No. 2 ranked point guard in the Class of 2018 and joins a recruiting class that includes five-stars Keldon Johnson (No. 12 in the RSCI rankings), E.J. Montgomery (No. 10) and Immanuel Quickley (No. 23), and underrated four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro. Kentucky’s No. 2 ranked class is packed with talent, especially at the guard spot. Hagans and Quickley are both promising at the point, with Herro showing tremendous potential at the two spot. Hagans has trained with fellow Georgia native and Kentucky freshman E.J. Montgomery throughout high school, giving the two an edge when it comes to chemistry on the court.
How he fits
Hagans reclassified after Calipari had already recruited a standout class for 2018, including another top point guard prospect in Immanuel Quickley. Hagans has the advantage, however, in his speed. He’s a talented two-way guard who plays hard and fast on both sides of the ball, hustling regardless of whether he’s dunking on opponents or in a shooting slump. He’s got great vision which helps him excel in playmaking while his ball-handling abilities help him get to the basket. While Quickley may be the better shooter, Hagans's speed will help Kentucky in the era of quick collegiate play. With the Wildcats' incredible depth at the point guard spot, Hagans will have to share time with Kentucky’s other talented guards, but after the team’s summer showing in the Bahamas it became clear that sophomore Quade Green will not be running point—although as a rare second-year player for Calipari, he will bring a much needed element of experience to the team. This is not to count Green out entirely, as the talented veteran improved as the exhibition went on in the Bahamas, but Calipari will likely build his starting backcourt around Quickley and Hagans with Johnson at the wing, bringing Green and Herro in off the bench.
Hagans fits as a natural replacement for 2017’s starting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who left for the draft along with three other Kentucky players. One of the Wildcats most valuable players last season, Gilgeous-Alexander was another talented two-way guard like Hagans. He averaged a team-best 14.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 48.5% from the floor. Hagans's defensive relentlessness is the biggest difference between the two and is a huge bonus for Kentucky after it was unable to replicate the 2016–17 team's top-10 defense last season, dropping to 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com) after finishing seventh the season prior. If Hagans can help replace Gilgeous-Alexander’s production and contribute defensively, Kentucky should be all set. It's got depth all across the court and Calipari is a gifted point guard creator. He’s coached five top-10 NBA draft picks at the point guard position and Hagans could easily be the next, with speed similar to the likes of Kentucky greats John Wall and De’Aaron Fox.
Importance to Kentucky's success/team outlook
Calipari’s current guards are long and fast, the 6’3” Hagans included, which make them threats on both ends of the court. During the team’s exhibition in the Bahamas in August, Hagans impressed with his aggressiveness and defensive prowess, which aligns with Calipari’s goal of making his 2018 team “the best defensive team,” a task that he said starts with his point guards. The 190-pound Hagans accounted for eight of the team’s 31 steals in the Bahamas, with both he and Quickley setting a tone with their on-ball defense. The two freshmen helped Kentucky hold its four Bahamas opponents to 35.4% shooting from the field and just 20% from three-point range, and the Wildcats averaged 7.8 steals per game—more than two more than the 5.6 they averaged last season—despite barely any defensive training as a unit to date. Kentucky’s freshmen guards are smart, talented and eager to learn, hinting at a positive upswing for a team that struggled to find a rhythm last season. The Wildcats' showing in the Bahamas upped early expectations and showed they belong in the preseason mix as top national title contenders.