Ashton Hagans is trying to help Newton break a 54-year-old drought.
The Rams’ boys basketball team last won a state championship in 1964. Newton has reached the quarterfinals and semifinals the past two seasons with Hagans at the point, and the team is 12-3 and ranked No. 5 in Class AAAAAAA his junior season.
But Hagans also is on course to break another drought, though it wasn’t his, per se.
Hagans could be the first five-star recruit to sign with Georgia since 2011. Rated the consensus No. 2 point guard nationally among juniors, Hagans committed to Georgia on Dec. 21.
Hagans’ relationship with his cousin, former Georgia forward Trey Thompkins, was significant to his decision. Thompkins was a first-team all-SEC forward in 2010 and 2011, which were Mark Fox’s first two seasons as Georgia’s head coach. Thompkins now plays overseas, but he and Hagans frequently talk.
‘’We’re really close,’’ Hagans said Tuesday. “Before I made my decision, I asked him what Coach Fox was like in practice. He said he’s going to be on me sometimes, but off the court, he’ll tell me he’s just pushing me to make me better. He’s a great coach. I know he can get me to where I need to be whether it’s one-and-done or two years or three.’’
The ultimate factor that kept him in Georgia, though, was proximity. Describing himself as a ‘’homebody,’’ Hagans wants his family to see him play.
‘’Committing to Georgia was about family and staying close,’’ Hagans said.
Hagans would be the first consensus No. 1 recruit in Georgia or five-star player to sign with the Bulldogs since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Now with the Lakers, Caldwell-Pope played at Georgia for two seasons and was an NBA lottery pick in 2013.
Caldwell-Pope was the consensus No. 12 player nationally in 2011, per 247Sports’ Composite ratings. Hagans is the consensus No. 11 junior now, according to 247, so he’s technically Fox’s best recruit by one spot.
But Hagans isn’t too caught up in that trivia. He’s just trying to be the best high school player and teammate he can be. He is averaging 18.5 points, 11.5 assists, eight rebounds and four steals per game. He’s had six triple-doubles and just missed three other times.
‘’He has a very unique skill set,’’ Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said. “He can pass it like no one we’ve ever had. He can get the ball to places you wouldn’t have expected. He’s an incredible on-ball defender as a guard. His length, timing and anticipation are incredible for a 6-4 point guard.’’
Said Hagans, ‘’I’m a pass-first guard, but I can score if I want. I like rebounding and playing defense. I’m all over the court.’’
Hagans’ father, Marvin, said he likes his son’s unselfishness the most. Marvin said you can see that trait in his defensive intensity and passing style.
‘’You could put somebody that’s not even a good player in the game and he’ll make sure they get two points because he wants them to be happy as well,’’ Marvin Hagans said.
Under Rasmussen, Newton has experienced its best sustained success since the early 1970s. The Rams have lost close playoff games to the eventual state champions Westlake and Tift County the past two seasons. The current team graduated all-state guard J.D. Notae, who is averaging 16.4 points as a freshman at Jacksonville University, and is built differently but is equally as dangerous.
‘’My ninth-grade year we had a lot of scorers and were getting up and down the court,’’ Hagans said. “My 10th-grade year, it was the same thing. Everybody was jumping out of the gym. This year, we’ve got to run some plays to get buckets. We’ve got to be more patient. Sometimes we’re lacking on defense. It’s the small things we’ve got to pick up on.’’
Newton has an interesting home game Tuesday night against Shiloh, which features another recent Georgia-committed player, Elias King. Hagans and King, in fact, could become the only players rated in the top three in Georgia to sign with Georgia since Caldwell-Pope. King also is a top-100 national recruit.
It’s ironic now that Hagans almost didn’t play this season at Newton. He intended to transfer to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, where Thompkins spent a season before returning to Wesleyan for his senior year. Hagans thought it would give him added exposure, but he realized he didn’t need it and changed course last summer.
He again wanted family to be able to watch him finish high school, and he didn’t want to leave unfinished business behind. Newton has a chance to break the drought, after all.
‘’It had a lot to do with it,’’ Hagans said. ‘’We were close [to state titles] my ninth- and 10th-grade years, and I felt we had a great chance of going at it again. We’ve just got to stay humble and keep working.’’
Consensus 5-star recruits from Georgia since 2009:
Ashton Hagans, Newton (committed to Georgia)
Isaac Okoro, McEachern (uncommitted)
Reggie Perry, Thomasville (Mississippi State)
E.J. Montgomery, Wheeler (uncommitted)
Collin Sexton, Pebblebrook (Alabama)
Wendell Carter, Pace Academy (Duke)
Kobi Simmons, St. Francis (Arizona)
Jaylen Brown, Wheeler (California)
Tony Parker, Miller Grove (UCLA)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Georgia)
Jelan Kendrick, Wheeler (Memphis)
Ryan Harrow, Walton (N.C. State)
Derrick Favors, South Atlanta (Georgia Tech)
Chris Singleton, Dunwoody (Florida State)