Written by UK staff
LOS ANGELES – Another day, another national player preseason watch list for Kentucky men’s basketball’s talented backcourt.
Sophomore Ashton Hagans and freshman Tyrese Maxey were named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 on Tuesday, the opening day of the 2019-20 college basketball season. Kentucky is one of nine programs with two players among the top 50 preseason favorites for the Wooden Award’s Player of the Year Trophy.
Tuesday’s announcement continues a recent run of preseason accolades for Hagans and Maxey. The duo was also tabbed to this season’s Citizen Naismith Trophy watch list and both were selected Monday to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference Teams by the league’s coaches alongside sophomore forward EJ Montgomery. Maxey was also named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division I Player of the Year watch list Monday as well.
The preseason top 50 list represents 12 conferences, 34 upperclassmen, 22 seniors and 10 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 midseason list, 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.
Hagans shared the coaches’ 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Year award after inducing 61 steals during his freshman campaign and is considered one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball. He is also UK’s leading returning scorer at 7.7 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard was a two-time SEC Freshman of the Week award winner, was named to the Athletic’s All-Glue Team and was a Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist. He’s a preseason All-SEC First Team selection by both the league’s media and coaches.
The Bob Cousy Award preseason watch list candidate (Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s top point guard) started in 30 of 37 games a season ago and tied Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the third-most steals in program history. Included in that was a UK single-game record of eight swipes in a win over North Carolina in December, which matched Rajon Rondo and Wayne Turner’s output. Hagans also dished out 160 assists on the season, ranked the fifth most by a UK freshman in school history. That mark includes an SEC Tournament-record 12 assists in the semifinals against Tennessee.
Hagans scored in double figures in 13 games and recorded a career-high 23 points in a win at Georgia in his return to his hometown state last season. He totaled 29 games with three or more assists and had 10 games with three or more steals. In UK’s two exhibition games, he averaged 10.5 points and a team-high 9.5 assists per game.
Maxey begins his freshman campaign with the Wildcats as the No. 10 overall prospect by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. He was a Naismith High School Boys’ 2019 All-America Second Team selection. As a senior at South Garland High School, he averaged 22.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
The 6-foot-3 guard was tabbed Texas Mr. Basketball and was the Dallas-Fort Worth Area Player of the Year. Maxey was a two-time All-State selection and was a 2019 McDonald’s All American. His success stretches beyond high school basketball as he also won a gold medal as a member of the U18 USA Team.
In addition to preseason All-SEC Second Team honors from the media and league’s coaches, Maxey made NBC Sports’ preseason All-America Third Team, was an Associated Press preseason All-America Honorable Mention selection and is on the Jerry West Award watch list for the Naismith Hall of Fame’s top shooting guard. He’s lived up to the preseason billing with an average of 10.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game in Kentucky’s two exhibition games.
The Wildcats open the regular season in New York for the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday. They will face Michigan State at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN in a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in the country, according to the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll.
It will mark just the second time in NCAA Division I history the AP No. 1 and No. 2 teams played in their respective openers, according to STATS. No. 1 Indiana defeated No. 2 UCLA in November 1975.
Tuesday’s matchup will be the ninth 1-2 matchup the Wildcats have been a part of. They’re 5-3 all-time in such games.