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When opportunity knocks: Josh Hagins and his journey to the D-League

Submitted by Kolton Rutherford on February 22, 2017 – 9:20 amNo Comment

by: Kolton Rutherford

In the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the Little Rock Trojans shattered lots of office brackets when they upset fifth-seeded Purdue in the first round of the competition. LR guard Josh Hagins played an influential role in the game, leading the Trojans to an epic comeback when all looked lost with only three minutes remaining. But it was the shot, so improbable, that led to Hagins’ name being stamped in LR sports history.

Hagins lofted up a three-point prayer with only 4 seconds remaining, with the Trojans on the verge of elimination after losing only five games all year. Calling on every shooting skill he’d learned in his life, and maybe a little luck, Hagins’ shot fell through the net, forcing Purdue to overtime. The Trojans eventually pulled out the win in double-OT, with Hagins scoring the game sealing points. He is the first player in the history of the NCAA tournament to record at least 30 points, five rebounds, five assists, and five steals in one game. When opportunity knocked that afternoon in Denver, Hagins took advantage. It’s something he is used to doing.

Hagins wasn’t widely recruited out of high school. The Airline High School product from Bossier City, La., came from a military background. Having originally been born in Washington, D.C., Hagins, a guard with a self-described “unconventional” style of play, was a 2-star prospect on the recruiting website Josh attracted interest from Louisiana schools like Tulane, Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, and even fellow Sun Belt competitor Louisiana-Lafayette. But it was one school, UA Little Rock, in a city where Josh lived as a child, that caught his eye.

“They gave me an opportunity,” he said. “I’ll never forget that.”

After committing to UA Little Rock, Josh told The Forum in an exclusive interview that his focus was to set a new standard for Little Rock basketball and leave the program better than when he first arrived.

He credits Steve Shields, former LR head coach, with teaching him to deal with adversity, something that came in handy late in the NCAA tournament game versus Purdue. In 2015, Chris Beard took over as head coach. During Beard’s one season on the job, the Trojans improved from a 13-18 team to a 30-5 record, one which won the Sun Belt championship. Current head coach Wes Flanigan, an assistant under Beard, spoke of Josh as a player and a person.

“Josh obviously did a lot for our program,” Flanigan said. “We had a heck of a run last year, and it all started with him. He was a playmaker; a guy that made big shots for us, and he stepped into a leadership role as a senior. I think he has a long professional career ahead of him. I wish him the best. He’s a great kid and someone who represented Little Rock the right way, on and off the court.”

Even after finishing his college career in the national spotlight, Hagins’ options as a basketball player were limited. In a sport where increasing numbers of players are “one and done,” Josh was a senior from a non-power conference and a school that only sporadically gained national attention over the past thirty years. After leaving LR, Hagins prepared for the NBA draft, in hopes of catching a team’s eye. But with the NBA draft consisting of only two rounds and 60 picks, the odds of Hagins receiving a call were slim. While that call didn’t arrive, another opportunity was on the horizon.

The Sacramento Kings invited Hagins to take part in the NBA Summer League and supplied what he described as a “fun, educational, and opportunistic experience.” After four games with the Kings, during which he played 48 minutes and shot 4-8 from the field, along with a 75 percent three-point percentage, he awaited another opportunity.

After a few months, opportunity knocked once again when Hagins received an offer to play basketball in Europe.

Bosna Royal, a team based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, signed Josh in mid-October. Josh noted that his reasoning for accepting the European opportunity was simple. He’d not only make some money, but he’d also get a chance to work on his game with a professional team.

His time in Bosnia was different than anything he’d ever experienced. “Basketball fans treat the game much like European soccer fans,” he said.

After a couple of months in Europe, Hagins returned home to America, hoping to land another opportunity. Josh said waiting for a call was tough, and it took longer than he had expected. Eventually, the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Developmental League (D-League) offered Josh an opportunity to play professionally in the United States. The Red Claws, the D-League affiliate of the Boston Celtics, are based in Portland, Maine.

After signing on Jan. 26, Hagins made his debut in Portland a week later. Through his first three games with the Red Claws, he scored nine points, all in a Feb. 9 game versus the Northern Arizona Suns.

Josh Hagins has proven he has a knack for playing well when it counts the most. On Feb. 10, Hagins and the Red Claws took on the Westchester Knicks in a nationally-televised game on ESPN. In his first game as a Red Claws starter, Josh scored 17 points and recorded six assists, as well as six rebounds. The former Trojan helped lead the Red Claws to a win and had once again played well in the national spotlight.

All Hagins wants is an opportunity.

The two-star recruit from Airline High School found one at Little Rock, cementing his legacy in the program forever. Another arrived with the NBA-Summer League and another in Europe. Now, Hagins is counting on the NBA D-League to pave the road to future success. For all the opportunities he has taken, perhaps his most important is yet to come. Hagins looks to continue to improve in Maine and return to the summer league with an eye on joining an NBA training camp late this summer.

Wherever his path leads, rest assured, when opportunity again knocks, Josh Hagins will answer.

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