LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky men’s basketball guards Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey are among the early candidates for the 2020 Citizen Naismith Trophy Men’s Player of the Year honor, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced on Monday.
The duo is among 50 candidates for the 2020 award, given annually to the national player of the year. Anthony Davis, who collected virtually every major national player of the year award in 2012, is the lone Wildcat to win the Naismith Trophy in Kentucky’s decorated history.
UK’s two preseason candidates on the Naismith list are tied with six other programs (Davidson, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan State) with two preseason honorees. The Southeastern Conference, with nine candidates, leads the country in nominations.
A list of the Naismith midseason 30 team will be released in early February, followed by 10 national semifinalists on March 5 and four finalists on March 17. The 2020 Citizen Naismith Trophy will be awarded at the Naismith Awards Brunch on April 5, during the Final Four in Atlanta.
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 from the league’s media.
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. He 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.
The Cartersville, Georgia, native 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. 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. He 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, 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.
Founded during the 1956-57 season, the Atlanta Tipoff Club is committed to promoting the game of basketball and recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of those who make the game so exciting. The Atlanta Tipoff Club administers the Naismith Awards. Named in honor of Dr. James Naismith, inventor of the game of basketball, the family of Naismith Awards annually recognizes the top men’s and women’s college and high school basketball players and coaches. Other Naismith Awards are presented to the men’s and women’s college basketball defensive players of the year, as well as lifetime achievement awards to basketball officials and outstanding contributors to the game.
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.