COVINGTON, Ga. — 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 in the making – 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 widely-known 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-4, 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.
And the elder Hagans’ chest swells each time he sees his son taking his advice. For him, it’s the proof that the well-crafted plan his family had for Ashton’s success is coming to fruition.
“I’m extremely proud,” Marvin Hagans said. “I just had a vision for his future. What a lot of people don’t know is we as a family came up with a plan. His mother, his step dad, myself, my wife. We all came up with a plan for his success, and we told him to trust the process. I told him that Georgia would be the first to offer. I told him the big time prep schools would come into play.
“Part of that plan was all about him continuing to work hard and be a student-athlete first.”
It’s this kind of undergirding that is the reason why Ashton will 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.