DJ WagnerThe No. 1 high school senior announced his commitment to Kentucky men’s basketball on Monday, choosing the Wildcats over Louisville.
Wagner’s commitment gives John Calipari and Kentucky the number one recruiting force in the country. If the Wildcats finish the course at the top — and Wagner’s pledge likely seals that — it will be the seventh time since Calipari took over at Lexington that Kentucky has the highest-ranking recruiting class. Wagner is also the fourth No. 1 recruit to commit to the Wildcats under Calipari, after that Shedon SharpAnd the Nerlens Noel And the Anthony Davis.
“This was a very difficult decision that I went back and forth on for a long time. That’s why it took me so long,” Wagner told ESPN. “I’m really comfortable with my decision. Coach John Calipari has always been straight and honest with me. He said he’ll be with me until the wheels fall off the car either way. That means a lot to me. When I watch him coach I can feel the intensity, how he disciplines his team and how he breaks it.”
“The atmosphere in Kentucky is unbelievable,” he added. “I’ve been there many times and this is what I feel most comfortable with.”
Wagner was the subject of an intense recruiting battle between in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville, with strong family ties to both programs. Calipari coached Wagner’s father, DaGuan, in Memphis, and first-year Louisville head coach Kenny Payne played with Wagner’s grandfather, Milt, on Louisville’s 1986 national championship team.
In May, Payne hired Milt Wagner as program director for player development and alumni relationship — a move similar to when Calipari hired Milt in Memphis in 2000. Cream Watkinsis a tour of Kentucky.
“My older brother Karim is on the team,” he said. “This has made a huge difference. I’m looking forward to it; we’re so close.
“My grandfather was always serious throughout the process. He never tried to recruit me. He always said what was best for me. He was a mentor in my life and helped develop me into the player and person that I am. Be family first. Nothing but love for him.”
Wagner, the 6-foot-3 guard from Camden High School (NJ), has been considered the best prospect in the class of 2023 since the start of his high school career. He averaged 18.8 points and 4.9 assists on the Nike EYBL circuit with the NJ Scholars primary this past spring and summer, including nine 20-point efforts in 18 games. As a junior in high school last season, Wagner averaged 19.8 points and led Camden to the New Jersey state championship.
Wagner also helped lead USA Basketball to a gold medal at the 2022 FIBA U17 World Championship, starting all seven games and averaging 9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
brings the real competitive spirit to the game; Winning is crucial to Wagner. He went into USA Basketball with a gold medal winning mentality. He is at his best on the open court, playing in transition. He can rebound defensively and then push the ball up as well as anyone in the class. He puts a lot of pressure on the defence, with his speed to score and his vision to provide assists. He is a point guard in the mold of the Cleveland Cavaliers star Darius Garland.
When the game slows down at Halfcourt, Wagner’s optimization from the perimeter has been an asset. He’s learning how to organize in the pick-and-roll business and has always been effective as a downhill hacker, getting into the paint and finishing with top-level body control. He’s decisive once he’s in the paint, and knows when to pull up, jump, use a buoy or kick to a teammate for a shot. Defensively, he is effective when guarding the ball and also has good anticipation of the ball.
Wagner joins a Kentucky class that now includes four of the eight top prospects in the class of 2023, with Justin Edwards (Number 2) , Aaron Bradshaw (No. 5) and Robert Dillingham (No. 8) Already in the hangar. The Wildcats also signed No. 26 Reed Sheppard.
This is only the third time in the past 10 years that one school has landed four of their top 10 prospects in the same season: Kentucky in 2013, which had five of the top nine, and Duke in 2017.
“I’m coming to win,” said Wagner. “Winning comes first with me and I want to help Kentucky win as much as possible.”
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