Heart over hype. Why 5-star PG stayed home

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL STOVALL gsto­vall@cov­

To­ward the end of last year’s mag­i­cal boys bas­ket­ball ride, the New­ton Rams and all their fans knew that it may be a long time be­fore any­one saw a team of that mag­ni­tude again.

New­ton didn’t win a state crown, but no one will deny that it had the talent to do so. Na­tion­ally ranked most of the sea­son, coach Rick Ras­mussen’s bunch packed out the gym each night to sa­vor as much of the high-fly­ing ac­tion as pos­si­ble.

Part of that star-stud­ded bunch was younger than guys like J.D. No­tae (now at Jack­sonville Univer­sity) and Isa­iah Miller (UNC-Greens­boro). While any­one could ap­pre­ci­ate No­tae’s sharp shoot­ing and heady play and even the most ca­sual hoops fan’s jaw would drop at Miller’s high-fly­ing above-the-rim an­tics, it would take a real bas­ket­ball con­nois­seur to ap­pre­ci­ate then-sopho­more point guard, Ash­ton Hagans.

Hagans didn’t al­ways fill up the stat sheet from a scor­ing per­spec­tive. But when you’re a player who could av­er­age a dou­ble-dou­ble in points and as­sists while com­pet­ing in Ge­or­gia’s big­gest, bad­dest clas­si­fi­ca­tion, you’re go­ing to get your fair share of na­tional at­ten­tion.

In Hagans’ case, that na­tional at­ten­tion came from him as­cend­ing to the top of the na­tional list of five-star point guards. And while some of that may cause other play­ers to have swollen heads, it seems like Hagans got more hum­ble with each dime he dropped or each player he po­si­tioned to score.

And he’ll tell you, for him, there’s no real se­cret to the sauce.

“It’s nat­u­ral,” Hagans said. “I mean, I’m a pass-first guard. I like to get my team­mates in­volved. I love to win, so I could care less about the scor­ing. I like de­fense. I couldn’t care less about of­fense from a scor­ing per­spec­tive, as long as I can make my team­mates bet­ter.”

The Un­selfish Star

Self­less­ness has been his claim to fame. From his time play­ing ball as a sixth grader – the time when Ash­ton’s fa­ther, Marvin, first be­gan to see the be­gin­nings of a star – to his eighth grade year at Cle­ments Mid­dle, where, ac­cord­ing to Marvin Hagans, is when he saw his son turn the corner.

“I re­ally knew he was spe­cial dur­ing that eighth grade sea­son at Cle­ments,” Marvin Hagans said. “He led his team to an un­de­feated sea­son. He made ev­ery­one around him bet­ter. That’s spe­cial. He’s a Ja­son Kidd type, not the guy who thinks he has to score 40 or 50 points a game.”

He’s also not the guy that has to go to the big­gest or best schools in the land in or­der to gain the kind of no­to­ri­ety he wants.

Ash­ton’s 2016- 17 sea­son dras­ti­cally en­larged his blip on the na­tional re­cruit­ing radar. It not only at­tracted the at­ten­tion of vir­tu­ally ev­ery big time col­lege hoops pro­gram in the area, but also some of the more wide­ly­known prep schools that gar­ner na­tional ac­claim.

As the sea­son and last school year came to an end, it looked more and more like Ash­ton would be headed to one of those schools, be­come an even big­ger, na­tional cal­iber star, and per­haps fade off into the Cov­ing­ton land­scape as one whom peo­ple would wax rem­i­nis­cent about one day as that kid who stopped through New­ton for a cou­ple of years, on his way to big­ger and bet­ter things.

But it didn’t take long for the 6-foot-2, 5-star prospect to re­al­ize he had what he needed in his own back­yard.

A Fam­ily Af­fair

Marvin Hagans did not grow up with his fa­ther. Though he, no doubt, wanted it to be dif­fer­ent, he doesn’t seem afraid to say it.

“I grew up and played ball in New York,” Marvin Hagans said. “I didn’t have a fa­ther fig­ure to tell me what I need to be and how I need to do to get things done.”

It’s part of the rea­son why Marvin Hagans is so in­volved in his son’s re­cruit­ment.

When you’re get­ting of­fers and over­tures from vir­tu­ally ev­ery pro­gram in the coun­try – in­clud­ing some of those who’ve been re­cently cited by the FBI as prob­lem­atic when it comes to money and brib­ing young play­ers – you’ve got to have some­one in place to be a buf­fer. Marvin gladly does that. “I’m here for my son,” the el­der Hagans said. “He has a great fam­ily back­ing, so some things that other peo­ple deal with, he doesn’t have to worry as much about that.”

In fact, Ash­ton Hagans says the re­cruit­ing stuff is real sim­ple.

“When they come around, all I say is, ‘talk to my dad,’ and I keep it mov­ing,” he said.

He’ll be the first one to say that fam­ily has been huge in his life and de­vel­op­ment as a top-shelf high school hoops product. And that’s the ex­act rea­son why, even amid the spec­u­la­tion that he’d be headed to a top prep pro­gram in Vir­ginia, Hagans made the de­ci­sion to stay at New­ton. Like most things, he makes it sound easy. “I just wanted to stay with my fam­ily and friends,” Ash­ton Hagans said. “And once I be­came a top 25 prospect, I fig­ured there weren’t any other goals I had set that couldn’t be ac­com­plished here. So stay­ing here was just about be­ing with fam­ily and friends. That’s all it was.”

Tak­ing a Lead­er­ship Leap

When you can do the things you can do on the court that Ash­ton Hagans can, it’s some­times hard to pin­point the places of im­prove­ment. Hagans can do it with­out much pause, though. “I want to be a bet­ter leader on the court,” he said. “Be­ing more vo­cal and get­ting my team­mates in­volved. I also want to help us cut out all the play­ing around we did in the play­offs last year, that I think kept us from win­ning a cham­pi­onship.”

Hagans will not have some of the same kind of of­fen­sive fire power sur­round­ing him that he had last year. But be­cause of who he is as a player, that doesn’t bother him. Ras­mussen un­der­stands why. “Ob­vi­ously we were thrilled to have Ash­ton back,” Ras­mussen said. “We’ll be a lit­tle less deep at guard this year, a lit­tle less ex­plo­sive, but with Ash­ton’s abil­ity to make plays and make oth­ers around him bet­ter, I think we can still have a great back­court.”

That’s the rea­son why Hagans’ goals for his ju­nior sea­son all re­volve around the parts he has to work with right at home.

“I want to work to­ward get­ting Mr. Bas­ket­ball for Ge­or­gia and be­ing se­lected as a Mc­Don­ald’s All-Amer­i­can and win­ning state,” he said.

When asked if he thinks he can ac­com­plish those things right here at New­ton, his re­ply was sim­ple, yet sure.

“Yes sir,” he said.

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