UK men’s basketball backcourt duo remains among favorites for national player of the year
LOS ANGELES – Sophomore Ashton Hagans and freshman Tyrese Maxey remain in the hunt for the John R. Wooden Award after appearing on the Wooden Midseason Top 25 list on Wednesday. The candidates were announced on ESPNU.
Kentucky is one of three programs (Duke and Kansas) with two players on the midseason list for the Wooden Award, presented annually by the Los Angeles Athletic Club to the national player of the year.
The midseason top 25 list represents 10 conferences, 13 upperclassmen, nine seniors and five freshmen. The players on the list are considered strong candidates for the 2020 John R. Wooden Award Men’s Player of the Year. Players not chosen to the preseason list are still eligible for the Wooden Award late-season list and the national ballot.
The national ballot consists of 15 top players who have proven to their universities that they are also making progress toward graduation and maintaining at least a cumulative 2.0 grade-point average.
Nearly 1,000 voters will rank in order 10 of those 15 players, who have qualified as meeting the standards set forth by Coach Wooden and the Wooden Award Steering Committee. Voting will open prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament and will allow voters to take into consideration performance during early round games. The Wooden Award All American Team will be announced the week of the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The winner of the 2020 John R. Wooden Award will be presented during the ESPN College Basketball Awards presented by Wendy’s on April 10.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis is the only winner in program history. He claimed the honor in 2012 after helping lead Kentucky to its eighth national championship in program history.
The UK backcourt duo has been key to the Wildcats’ 11-3 start, averaging a combined 26.9 points, 10.4 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Hagans has been the straw that stirs the drink for Kentucky, earning high praise from his Hall of Fame coach, John Calipari.
“We could say there are better point guards in the country, but you got to tell me who you’re talking about,” Calipari said recently.
With the way Hagans is playing this season, there are few rebuttals.
Hagans has been the consummate point guard in his sophomore season, doing a little bit of everything to affect the game. He is averaging 12.9 points, 7.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game while grabbing the leadership reins of a talented but once again young team. He’s one of only four players in the nation averaging at least 12.5 points, 7.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
The Cartersville, Georgia, native has boasted double-figure scoring in 10 of 14 games, including a career-high 26-point performance in the win over Utah Valley. He’s dished out three or more assists in every game and has five or more in 12 of the 14, including a career-high-tying 12 vs. UAB. He had a streak of 10 games with six or more assists until a five-assist night at Georgia, ending the best run by a Wildcat under John Calipari and the best streak since Roger Harden dished six or more in 12 straight from Jan. 11 to Feb. 15, 1986.
For the season, Hagans is averaging 7.1 assists per game, ranked eighth in the country and tops in the league (through games on Jan. 7). With 17 regular-season games remaining, Hagans is on pace for 220 assists at his current assist rate before postseason even begins. Ulis owns the single-season record of 246 in 2015-16.
With 100 assists and 45 turnovers for the season, Hagans’ 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio has vaulted him to third in the conference (through games on Jan. 7). He’s shooting 44.6% from the field and 83.1% at the free-throw line.
Maxey has lived up to significant preseason expectations as one of the top freshmen in the country. Those expectations only increased after he shot the roof off Madison Square Garden in his collegiate debut in early November.
Maxey’s 26 points in the 1-2 matchup vs. Michigan State topped Terrence Jones’ 25 points against East Tennessee State in 2010 for the most points by a freshman in their debut as a Wildcat. In that game, Maxey’s first points didn’t come until just after the midway point of the first half, but he scored seven straight points to help Kentucky earn an 11-point halftime lead. From the 10:03 mark of the second half until a pair of Ashton Hagans’ free throws with 37 seconds to play, Maxey scored or assisted on 14 straight UK points to hold off the Michigan State rally.
There was no bigger shot that night though than his final 3-pointer with a minute to play. With the shot clock winding down, Maxey took 6-foot-6 Aaron Henry off the dribble and drained a 3 from nearly four feet behind the line to sink the No. 1 team in the country.
Maxey has continued to produce in big-time matchups. Against Louisville, he made a career-high nine field goals (on 14 shots), sunk a career-best four 3-pointers and tied a career high with seven rebounds. His 27 points are the most by a UK freshman vs. Louisville and the most by a Wildcat in the rivalry since Jodie Meeks score 28 on Jan. 4, 2009. At Georgia, UK’s first true road game, he stuffed the stat sheet with team-high marks in points (17) and rebounds (seven) and career-high totals in assists (eight) and blocks (four).
Highlighted by three 20-point performances, Maxey is averaging a team-best 14.0 points per game. He’s scored in double figures in nine games with 17 3-pointers.
Against UK’s three ranked foes, he averaged 22.7 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 53.8% from the field, 44.4% from 3-point range and 81.8% from the free-throw line. He made eight 3-pointers in those games.
Kentucky, off to a 2-0 start in Southeastern Conference play for the seventh time in the Calipari era, returns to action Saturday in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats host Alabama at noon on ESPN.