The key to Newton’s success in the 2015-2016 boys' basketball season has been its three talented backcourt mates, Jaquan Simms, JD Notae and Ashton Hagans. The trio provides Newton with a stability on both sides of the ball unlike any other in the state.
The roles are clearly defined within the work relationship between Notae, Simms and Hagans. Notae is the team’s leading scorer and No. 1 option, Simms is the second leading scorer and the No. 2 option, Hagans is the swiss-army knife, he can dish, score and defend at an All-region level.
The regular season saw Notae put up 21 points per game, four rebounds and three steals while his right-hand, Simms, averaged 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Hagans was close to a double-double averaging 12 points and eight assists to go along with four rebounds and four steals.
Although the three differ in class with Simms being a senior, Notae a junior and Hagans a freshman, they couldn’t have better chemistry on or off the court.
The greatest thing about the Rams trio is how they take over games in spurts. Thursday’s elite eight contest acted as a microcosm of how the three are able to play off each other scoring 54 of the team’s 71 points as the three leading scorers. Notae led with 23, Hagans was second with 16 and Simms added 15.
“We’ve got three future college guards, so that’s good. That’s probably not most high school teams, especially the veterans. They were here last year in this moment and it didn’t phase ‘em at all,” Rasmussen said. “I thought Ashton played like a veteran [Thursday]. That was about his most mature game of the year; didn’t force anything, was under control and his mind was totally focused on the task at hand.”
“It’s all about sacrifice and selflessness. In order to know a role and accept it and accept the coaching and to achieve your best as a team, you’ve got to have individuals who buy in,” he added. “I would say [Thursday’s game] was a little microcosm, a picture of their buying in and the growth that we’ve had. There’s still room for growth, but I couldn’t be more proud of ‘em.”
It’s not that Simms, Hagans and Notae were the top three scorers for Newton, it’s how and when they affect the game as a team. Notae went bonkers in the third, scoring 13 points and Simms had eight of his 15 in the fourth while Hagans provided a steady four points each quarter.
“Well we practice hard in practice and hard work pays off,” Simms said. “We’ve been having ups and downs throughout the season and we’ve been practicing hard for the last couple of weeks and it’s just starting to pay off.”
“I gotta say how hard we been working is now paying off too like ‘Quan said and being leaders because we know we’re the big three of the team, my boy Ashton, my boy ‘Quan, we got this,” Notae added.
“At the beginning of the season we played as a team then in the middle we started messing up. so now we got back together and got it rolling,” Hagans concluded.
Newton Coach Rick Rasmussen also attributed the big three’s growth to hard work in practice.
“Lately, we’ve had a lot better practices. Less clowning and more maturity. [They’re] playing better together, making the extra passes, just knowing what to do on the court. Ever since, really, Christmas Break. Going to Alabama really helped,” Rasmussen said. “We bonded in the hotel room and we grew together there. When you go on a trip together, you get to know each other better and our veterans are playing well and our younger kids are playing well too. They’re not really freshmen anymore, it’s kind of like being a sophomore. I was really proud of the kids tonight.”
All three attribute their on-court chemistry to hard work in practice, but it probably helps that the three hang out almost every day.
Hagans is the floor general, but all three players know when one of the other two has it going.
“When I see him, either he takes the first three and he makes it or he drives to the basket and gets the and-one, that’s how I know,” Hagans said regarding Notae.
“When I see ‘Quan, when he gettin’ to the rack and shooting his 3s, I know he on or when Ashton penetrating and getting layups I know he on,” Notae said.
“If JD hits two or three shots I just keep feeding him the ball,” Simms said smiling. “If Ashton doing his thing and getting to the rack easy, I just keep giving him the ball and we work off each other like that.”
Both Simms and Notae are deadly from outside and they can get into the paint and score if they need to. Hagans isn’t a great shooter from deep yet, but he’s quick and has the ability to blow by defenders and get into the paint for layups or get open for good mid-range shots.
Hagans. Notae. Simms. All for one. One for all. All three, all good.