Cartersville native Ashton Hagans didn't get the opportunity to try to lead the University of Kentucky men's basketball team to a ninth NCAA Tournament championship due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
But there's still a chance for Hagans to end the season on a high note, as the sophomore point guard was named a finalist for the Naismith men's defensive player of the year award Monday. The award will be announced April 1 by the Atlanta Tipoff Club, which also presents the Naismith Player of the Year.
Hagans is one of four players up for the defensive honor. He was a semifinalist last season, when Washington's Matisse Thybulle became the second winner of the relatively new award. West Virginia's Javon Carter took home the inaugural prize following the 2017-18 season.
Joining Hagans as finalists are Kansas' Marcus Garrett, Duke's Tre Jones and Baylor's Mark Vital. The women's finalists are Aliyah Boston of South Carolina, Kylee Shook of Louisville, Aari McDonald of Arizona and DiDi Richards of Baylor.
Hagans missed the final game of the regular season for the Wildcats for what head coach John Calipari referred to as "personal reasons." The Covington High graduate was expected back for the SEC tournament. However, due to the global pandemic, the tourney was canceled before the Wildcats ever got a chance to play.
Over Kentucky's first 30 games of the season, Hagans averaged 11.5 points, 6.4 assists (best in the SEC), 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. During his two seasons in Lexington, he has 119 steals in 67 games. Hagans also is up to 12th in UK history in assists with 351.
Hagans was recently named an all-SEC defensive team selection for the 2019-20 season. Last year, he was named co-defensive player of the year in the league. Now, the lockdown defender has an opportunity to add another honor for his tireless work on the less-heralded end of the floor.