After struggling through the worst season of coach John Calipari’s career (9 wins,16 losses), the Kentucky Wildcats are ready to reload. Big Blue has already secured the country’s fifth-best recruiting classes for both 2021 and 2022, according to Rivals.com. Now, their focus has shifted to 2023’s consensus top overall prospect, DJ Wagner, who scored 22 points per game as a sophomore.
Rivals’ national analyst, Rob Cassidy gushed over Wagner, a point guard from New Jersey, with the Lexington Herald Leader: “He is No. 1 by a large margin. He does everything so well. He’s got the length. He defends. He scores. Truly at all three levels. You have people that you call three-level scorers, but this guy can really do it all, and he finishes with both hands. He’s extremely polished for a kid that’s so young. He has upside to him, too, but you can tell he’s been coached. You can tell he knows what he’s doing. He’s a facilitator. In my mind right now … I just think he’s probably No. 1 regardless of class. That’s how far ahead of his peers he is.”
You have to wonder if the idea of landing Wagner has Coach Cal spending more time in New Jersey than when he coached the Nets.
Many view Kentucky as the likely landing spot for Wagner because of Cal’s existing relationship with Wagner’s family. Calipari recruited DJ’s father, DaJuan, when he coached at Memphis. The elder Wagner flourished under Cal, playing just one season at Memphis and making enough of an impact to be drafted 6th overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Milt Wagner, grandfather to DJ, was on Calipari’s Memphis coaching staff. Over the years, Cal and the Wagner family have remained close.
The largest obstacle standing between a Wagner-Kentucky pairing isn’t Duke, Kansas or some other college basketball blue blood – it’s the possibility of Wagner electing to forego college and head straight for the pros, something that more than a handful of scouts and coaches think he might do.
Cassidy isn’t so sure: “They are very much in the camp of, ‘This isn’t done. We want DJ to be recruited. We want Kentucky to recruit him — we want everyone to recruit him.’ They’ve put it out there that this is not a done deal. I think there’s probably more of a chance (he goes to college) than people think.”
Should Wagner decide to hoop in Lexington, he’d become the first consensus No. 1 prospect to sign with UK since Nerlens Noel in 2012.