The NCAA Tournament is the kind of platform that can transform an unknown prospect into quite the household name in an instant. Two years ago, such a catapult of notoriety took place for Arkansas-Little Rock guard Josh Hagins.
During a first round game against the fifth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, Hagins helped lead his 12th seeded squad to victory thanks to an excellent 31 point, 7 rebound, 6 assist and 5 steal effort, shooting 10-20 from the field.
Even if it had only been a brief moment of stardom, the game helped Hagins transition to the next stage of his career. After a short stint in Bosna with KK Bosna, he made his way to the G League with the Maine Red Claws. Although there were some optimism about his potential role with the team, his play was held back due to the amount of talented wings and guards that the team had.
Over the course of the season, the team had talented backcourt players like Marcus Georges-Hunt, Demetrius Jackson, Damion Lee, Arthur Edwards and Coron Williams. Additionally, 6’7 forward Abdel Nader showed his work as a facilitator as he averaged 3.9 assists per game. Such a combination didn’t allow for Hagins to receive consistent minutes and showcase his worth. He averaged just 16.8 minutes during his rookie season.
Prior to the start of training camp this past season, the Red Claws traded Hagins’ returning player rights and Dominic Cheek in exchange for Chris Flemmings and a future 4th round pick to the Reno Bighorns.
One might have thought that the change of sceneary would have opened up more playing time for Hagins, but that wasn’t the case initially. Playing behind veteran guards like Marcus Williams and David Stockton. Hagins only averaged 17.8 minutes per game heading into the All-Star break.
However, as the season went on and Bighorns mainstays like Stockton and Reggie Hearn signed NBA deals, the young gun’s playing time increased. After the All-Star break, Hagins shined as he averaged 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1 steal per game on 44% from the field and 39 from beyond the arc. His facilitating was definitely his finest trait as he maintained an unbelievable 6.0 Ast/TO ratio during that period after the All-Star break.
Although that post-All Star break period lasted only 14 games and his minutes only increased slightly, its a sign that the grind that he’s been on since turning pro might actually be starting to pay off.
Hagins sat down with Ridiculous Upside to talk about his improvements, learning from Marcus Williams & David Stockton and his plans for the following season.
Ridiculous Upside: After spending your rookie season with the Maine Red Claws, what was your mindset after joining Reno?
Josh Hagins: I wanted to prove people wrong and let them know I’m not a guy that just had one moment. I wanted to prove that I can be a consistent player and I belong in the NBA, which is something I truly believe.
RU: How did you feel about getting dealt to the Bighorns?
JH: I was excited because I’m all about opportunity. You know, I wasn’t coming out in the draft and getting a million chances to do what I was trying to do. So the chances I did get I did do well with as far as pre-drafts or summer league. For me to get another chance and go back to Reno where I felt like people wanted me there to prove that I can play. It was a great chance and I was definitely looking forward to it.
RU: Were you excited about the possibility of working with experienced players like Jack Cooley and JaKarr Sampson?
JH: Those are two great players. They’re definitely two great people to learn from. Jack is a big guy that’s very consistent at what he does since he brings the same energy and effort every night. JaKarr is the same way, as he’s a high energy guy that gives his all, regardless of how well he’s playing. That’s definitely something that I took from them and used throughout the course of the season.
RU: While on the topic of veterans, what was the experience like working behind David Stockton and Marcus Williams, both of whom have spent multiple years playing pro ball?
JH: Honestly, it was ideal for me. Coming out, a lot of people viewed me as this type of scoring/combo guard, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I just wanted people to know that I’m naturally a point guard. I had things to learn going into my second year.
With those guys doing what I envision myself doing — playing in the NBA and making money playing ball — it was definitely good to learn from them. Just learning small things and minor details on on their approach to the game every night .I was able to watch them in practice and ask questions. It was great for my growth.
RU: What are some of the things that you learned from working alongside those veterans?
JH: Just understanding how to play with pace. Coming out of Arkansas-Little Rock with Coach Beard, we didn’t necessarily play fast or with a high-tempo. As far as playing the pro game, I came in not working as fast as I needed to play so watching those guys helped. Stockton is obviously a very fast guard and Will is quick in his own right. You know, I’d ask them about certain spots I’d need to get to on the floor, coming off pick-and-roll or figuring out what the read was.
RU: Think those adjustments allowed you to improve as the season went on?
JH: Absolutely. When guys get called up to the NBA, they need to wait their turn. Guys on ten-day contracts or two-ways aren’t immediately expected to play a bunch of minutes off the bat. Having that awareness during my rookie year would have helped me, because I was put in a situation where I wasn’t playing as much. It was something that I needed to see. It helped me in a lot of ways and pushed me to work hard. I wasn’t necessarily worried about everyone else. Just staying focused on myself allowed me to stay ready.
RU: When you look back at this past season, what are your memories?
JH: Our team was much different than other G League squads. Guys enter the league worrying about themselves and get caught up in doing whatever it takes to make it [to the NBA]. They get lost in the process. The one good thing about us is that we were actually a team that had a lot of fun together both on and off the court. We really enjoyed each other’s time which allowed us to be an unselfish team.
That’s really hard to find in the G League. There are a lot of guys that just want to shoot and make all the plays. Meanwhile, we were focused on playing better team basketball. I just enjoyed everyone, from Rico Hines, Darrick Martin, Jimmy Gillies, Kyle Nishimoto and Katie Luhring) and my teammates. It was a fun year in general and definitely something that I’ll never forget.
RU: How did the staff instill such a sense of unselfishness in the team?
JH: Every coach wants their team to be selfless but that’s just something that you can’t necessarily control. With this team and the veterans that we had, they understood that shooting it every time and trying to make every play is not something that will get you into the NBA.
On our team, everyone is genuinely happy for one another and our success. That was big for us and something that carried us from a 5-10 start to being the 2nd best team in the Western Conference.
RU: Having just completed another G League season, what comes next for you?
JH: I want to play Summer League and get into vet camp, but right now it’s just a waiting game to see who’s interested and who’s not. I’ll go where people want me and go from there. My goal is to get into vet camp and do as well as I can. I know if I do as well as I can, I feel like people will give me what I want: an entry way into the NBA. I’ve just been working towards that as I’ve been going back and forth between Shreveport and Houston. I’m getting back in the gym and trying to get in the swing of things.
RU: Are you interested in going back to the G League next season?
JH: Yeah for sure. It’s definitely a great opportunity and I feel like if I get in the right situation where I get consistent minutes, then I’d get where I ultimately want to go. It’s definitely something that’s a possibility. As the league adds more teams and additional roster spots, I feel like the G League is really on the up and up.