Hagans gets to live out high school wish of playing with Montgomery, Johnson


Freshman guard Ashton Hagans plays defense during the game against Transylvania on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

In basketball, it’s hard for a team to be successful if it doesn’t have good chemistry, as some of the best teams in basketball are the ones who get along off the court.

At Kentucky, the extra hours spent in the gym and the Wildcat Coal Lodge help the basketball team build chemistry. Every year, the group of Wildcats build a bond like none other, a bond that stays strong even as the players move on to the NBA.

However, by the time that the certain group of elite players arrive at Kentucky, they are already familiar with each other thanks to elite travel basketball leagues in high school. Because of that, players will sometimes pick Kentucky over other schools because the roster has a certain player that person wants to team up with.

That’s why Ashton Hagans ended up enrolling early at Kentucky.

“I’ve always wanted to play with EJ (Montgomery) and Keldon (Johnson),” Hagans said.

Hagans had the opportunity to play on the same team with Montgomery and Johnson before UK. Hagans and Montgomery’s high schools were separated by just over 50 miles, but the two were never able to team up during their prep years.

Hagans said he was also supposed to attend Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, with Johnson, but they were never able to work that out either.

“It was just like ‘Dang, I didn’t get to play with the guys that I wanted to play with,’” Hagans said. “So now I get the chance to do it and it’s one of the reasons why [he enrolled early at UK].”

Enrolling early at UK was a big decision for Hagans, but one that he does not regret to this day still.

Three months before enrolling at UK, Hagans decommitted from Georgia, two months after making his commitment. After the decommitment, Hagans received offers from several top programs, such as Georgetown, Providence and Louisville.

Kentucky’s offer wouldn’t come until a month after Hagans moved on from Georgia, and after the offer, it only took 12 days for Hagans to pick Kentucky. At that point, Johnson had signed with UK five months prior while Montgomery committed to UK the day before Hagans did.

In high school, Hagans was disappointed he never got to team up with Montgomery just right down the road, so the opportunity to play with him was one of the reasons he decided to pick Kentucky.

“I’ve never played with a great big, and EJ can shoot the ball well, he’s very explosive,” Hagans said. “He can help my game more and I can help him out more.”

Hagans got to know Johnson from travel ball, and the two played on the same team during one of Nike’s Elite 100 camps. The two bonded immediately and continued to stay in contact, knowing there was a possibility of playing together in the future.

“That’s my boy, I knew Ashton before UK, I met him my 10th grade year,” Johnson said. “We just clicked from the jump when we first met each other and we definitely were trying to team up and have fun.”

Johnson and Hagans both have a similar playing style: hard-nosed on defense, maximum effort and energy and always sharing the ball with the open teammate. The similar playing styles only grew their desire to pair up on the same team.

“Just seeing him play, how hard he play and how hard I played, I was just like ‘Yeah, I want to play with him,’” Johnson said.

Now Johnson and Hagans both get to live out that wish of playing together, but in order for that to happen, Hagans had to finish a final difficult semester in high school in order to enroll early.

Hagans had to take extra coursework to achieve everything he needed to before coming to UK, and at times it seemed to be a bit too much for Hagans.

“I still had to get my workout in in the morning when I was still in high school, I had my classwork that I still had when I was in high school then I had the online courses,” Hagans said. “My family really just helped me through it all, they would stand with me through it all, telling me just keep fighting.”

Now, all that hard work of enrolling early is over, and Hagans is experiencing the benefits of playing with two players he’s wanted to play with since high school. Add in all the other talented players on UK’s roster this season, and Hagans is happy with his decision to start his college career early.

“This is a great team that we have this year, we have a lot of talent so we could do something special,” Hagans said.