Ashton Hagans, who has been described as the heartbeat of this season’s Kentucky team, has committed 22 turnovers in the last five games.
Rather than cite carelessness, assistant coach Joel Justus suggested maybe caring too much led to the turnovers.
“Ashton is a driven, competitive young man that wants to do well, first and foremost,” Justus said, “and (he) is trying to make the right play, be perfect, instead of just taking what’s there and getting our team into some offense.”
That sounded like a description of a player trying too hard, which Hagans found inaccurate.
“Nah,” he said. “I wouldn’t say trying too hard. I’d say probably being too fast sometimes. Rushing a lot of things. Just small things like that I can fix.”
When asked if feeling pressure to play well led to this rush to succeed, Hagans suggested how the question could be rephrased.
“I would say I have to be good every night because of this team,” he said. “There’s others out there who can do the same I can do.”
As if on cue, freshman Johnny Juzang happened to walk by. Juzang, who had a coming-out party at Tennessee on Saturday, showed he can give Kentucky a fourth productive player on the perimeter.
“He walked out at the perfect time,” Hagans said with a smile. “He stepped up when I was playing bad. And that’s what we’re going to need from a couple guys before we get to our highest peak.
“But we’re getting there. I’m getting there. Just trying to be better.”
In reviewing game film, Justus said he saw several factors involved in Hagans’ recent rash of turnovers.
Kentucky men’s basketball assistant coach Joel Justus talks to the media about the Wildcats’ upcoming game at Vanderbilt on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. UK defeated the Commodores 71-62 in Rupp Arena on January 29. BY JOHN CLAY
“Sometimes it’s (being) unlucky,” Justus said. “Sometimes it’s him forcing it. Sometimes it’s the fact that we haven’t had guys play well. … Now, he’s playing extended minutes when he should be coming out and grabbing a quick blow.”
In the last five games that saw Hagans commit 22 turnovers and barely get above a one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio with 25 assists, he averaged 33.4 minutes. That included a career-high 43 minutes in the overtime victory at Texas Tech. His only game in that span playing less than 33 minutes came at Auburn, where he fouled out in 20 minutes.
Hagans acknowledged that watching video of recent games can be a challenge.
“It looks bad,” he said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t look as bad because you see what you’re actually doing and you can actually fix it.
“And then you start to see how fast you’ve really been going, and you can actually slow down and get us into something.”
Keion Brooks did not sound alarmed by Hagans’ turnovers.
“He’s just going through a little stretch right now where like Coach (John Calipari) says, he’s not disciplined or whatever,” Brooks said. “You know, he’s going to get through it. He’s going to get better. Before that, he was playing great. He’s still playing good. He’s just got to cut back on that a little bit. Just make some easier plays. Don’t try to force the issue as much.”
Although more than one Kentucky coach has talked in recent weeks about the team’s relatively small margin for error, Justus also downplayed Hagans’ recent turnovers causing anxiety.
“I don’t think it concerns us,” Justus said. “I think it’s just another opportunity for him to learn and grow. He’s still a young basketball player in the grand scheme of things.”
Kentucky men’s basketball assistant coach Joel Justus was asked how will UK celebrate John Calipari’s birthday. The Wildcats’ head coach turned 61 years old on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. UK plays Vanderbilt in Nashville on Tuesday. BY JOHN CLAY
A question about Immanuel Quickley led Justus to point out that Kentucky players are human. Poor shooting? A rash of turnovers? It happens, Justus said.
“We all have to remember (and) I think fans have to remember that they’re allowed to play really well,” Justus said. “That they’re allowed to not play at their best.”
Of Quickley, Justus said, “He’s a guy who competes. He’s a guy who’s focused. He’s a guy who’s driven.”
UK coaches have said much the same thing about Hagans.
“I think everybody at times tries too hard,” Justus said. “That goes back to the character of the people we recruit.”
The thought of Juzang joining Tyrese Maxey and Quickley to form a four-headed perimeter monster pleased Hagans.
“It’s scary because, you know, even if one of us has a bad game, somebody else can play real good …,” he said. “For the (four) guards to be on the same page, we’re going to be really scary.”
No. 12 Kentucky at Vanderbilt
When: 7 p.m. EST
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Kentucky 18-5 (8-2 SEC), Vanderbilt 9-14 (1-9)
Series: Kentucky leads 148-47.
Last meeting: Kentucky won 71-62 on Jan. 29, 2020, in Rupp Arena.
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