MARIETTA, Ga. — In case you’re trying to guess the likelihood of 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans reclassifying from 2019 and enrolling at Kentucky this summer, his Tuesday night plans seem to offer a clue: He’s making an hour-long drive from Covington to Marietta, Ga., to work out with the Wildcats’ incoming 5-star freshman big man, EJ Montgomery.
“We’re starting to get real close,” Montgomery told SEC Country on Tuesday afternoon at his high school. “We’re working out together, trying to build that chemistry — if he decides to come this year.”
Both Montgomery and his parents grinned when he threw in that qualifier. Hagans, the No. 1 point guard in the 247Sports 2019 composite rankings and a Kentucky commit, does not plan to officially announce his reclassification decision until July. But all signs point to him being on the Cats’ 2018-19 roster.
“He’s always told me he wanted to play with me,” Montgomery said, and that interest became increasingly mutual after the two top-10 recruits collided in the quarterfinals of the Georgia state tournament in February.
They each scored 30-plus points and Montgomery nearly led his team back from a 20-point deficit, but Hagans would not be denied. Each of them walked away with a new level of respect for the other.
“I hope we see that [reclassification] come to fruition, because EJ and Ashton have developed a really, really good friendship over the last few months,” said Larry Thompson, Montgomery’s coach at Wheeler High School. “That game, that competition between those two, made them say, ‘You know what? It would be good if we could do this together in college.’
“You could tell those guys didn’t want to lose and put their respective teams on their backs and said, ‘Let’s slug this out.’ I think that game alone helped foster that relationship — but they probably can’t wait until a couple days on campus, a little 1-on-1 for EJ to get some payback.”
They might not have to wait that long. They scheduled a combined workout with a trainer Tuesday night in the auxiliary gym at Montgomery’s high school. (The main gym is all set up for his graduation ceremony on Wednesday night.)
Since it might be a while before they’re on the court together again — Montgomery’s parents will drive him to Lexington on June 2 — they figured it best to go ahead and get some reps in together.
“He’s a bulldog,” Montgomery said of Hagans, recalling their playoff battle. “He always went hard. And he kept trying to dunk on me. He got one, but I was on the side of him a little bit. We were just both competing real hard.”
Thompson calls Hagans “Young Bull II,” a reference to the nickname of former Alabama star and soon-to-be NBA lottery pick Collin Sexton. He thinks Montgomery would be perfectly paired with Hagans.
“This kid is just the ultimate alpha male without the lip service,” Thompson said. “He’s active on both ends of the floor, plays hard. I like him because he’s an unselfish guy; I love him because of how hard he plays. He gets after it.”
And that’s what Montgomery and Hagans planned to do together late Tuesday night, with almost no one watching, a little sneak preview in a high school practice gym far from the huge spotlight that awaits them at Kentucky.
Whether that’s this season for Hagans remains to be seen, but they might as well go ahead and get some work in, “just in case,” Montgomery said, laughing.
* EDITOR’S NOTE: SEC Country traveled to Georgia this week to spend time with both Montgomery and Hagans and profile both future Wildcats. We’ll roll out a series of stories and videos this week to help you get to know them better. Stay tuned.