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UK freshman Hagans finally understands role for the Wildcats; Calipari hoping rest of team can learn theirs

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Ashton Hagans finally knows his role. John Calipari wants the rest of his team to define their purpose.

The Kentucky coach has been spending his spare time focused in his team in an effort to get each player to reach the next proverbial level.

“How do I help individuals get better and how do I help them buy into their role like Ashton has bought into his role?” Calipari said. “How do I get this guy and that guy to understand what I’m asking you to do? They all know, but they’re choosing not to do it. Is it too hard? Are you not capable? Tell me why wouldn’t you (want to buy in). We’re still dealing with that.”

Calipari hopes Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) can make more strides against Georgia Tuesday night in Athens. The Bulldogs (9-6, 1-2) are coming off a 93-78 setback to Auburn and have lost two of their first three conference games.

Freshman Ashton Hagans is a defensive stopper for the Wildcats, who are starting to lean heavily on his play. (Photo by Keith Taylor, Kentucky Today)

The contest will be a homecoming for Hagans, who committed to Georgia before a coaching change resulted in Hagans reclassifying during the recruiting process and signed with the Wildcats.

Calipari said the Wildcats were approached by Hagans’ parents about attending Kentucky after he de-committed to Georgia. Hagans played at Newton High School in Cartersville and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year following his junior campaign.

“The family called us and said, ‘would you have an interest,’” he said. “That’s how it played out. I’m happy he’s with us.”

Calipari isn’t sure how his freshman point guard will react in his first encounter against the Bulldogs.

“It’s a hard game for him to go back and my guess is, he’s going to get mauled by the fans,” Calipari said. “And then that becomes does that inspire him or does it rattle him. None of us know. Let’s see.”

It also will be Calipari’s first time coaching against Georgia coach Tom Crean since Crean’s Indiana squad defeated Kentucky 73-67 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament four years ago in Des Moines, Iowa.

Calipari said he’s been a friend of Georgia coach Tom Crean and called the former Indiana coach a “competitor” and has “always respected what he does.”

“He’s going to want to win this game and he’s going to build it up to be the Super Bowl,” Calipari said. … “If I make it personal, I don’t do as good of a job. I don’t. You coach against friends, the problem is, somebody’s got to lose and you hope it’s him, but sometimes it’s you. Hit is him, you feel really good during the game and then you look at him and shake his hand and you feel bad for him.”

Calipari said the Bulldogs plays different and a “good ream.”

“We’ve got to desperate,” he said. “You don’t think Georgia is going to be desperate down there? They’re going to play out of their mind. We’re playing a team that different and it’s good for us.”

Hagans Honored

Hagans was honored for his recent play by the SEC Monday. For the second time this year, Hagans was named the conference Freshman of the Week.

Hagans averaged 16.5 points, 4.5 assists and four steals per game in wins over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt last week. Hagans tallied a career-high 18 in the win over the Aggies and added 15 against the Commodores Saturday night. Hagans has tallied double figures in four straight games and is averaging 15 points per outing in the first three SEC games.

Known as a defensive stopper, Hagans has collected at least three steals during the past five games, including eight last week. He has 38 steals in 15 games this season.

Although Kentucky fell behind and rallied to defeat Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, Hagans isn’t worried moving forward and said it starts in practice.

“We really just have to come together as a group in practice,” he said. “Listen to what the coaches have to say, but other than that, as the season goes along, we will click.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Georgia, 7 p.m. Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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