No. 1 high school prospect DJ Wagner announced his commitment to Kentucky men’s basketball on Monday, choosing the Wildcats over Louisville.
Wagner’s commitment makes John Calipari and Kentucky the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Wagner’s commitment could ensure that if the Wildcats finish the cycle on top — the seventh Kentucky recruiting class since Calipari took over in Lexington. Wagner is also the fourth No. 1 recruit signed by the Wildcats under Calipari, following Shaydon Sharpe, Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis.
“It was a very difficult decision. I went back and forth for a long time, and that’s why it took so long,” Wagner said in an interview with ESPN. “I’m really happy with the decision. Coach John Calipari has always been straight and honest with me. He said he’s going to be with me from the car to the bike. That meant a lot to me. When I saw him, Coach I felt energy, I could feel how he disciplined the team and how he broke it down.”
“The atmosphere in Kentucky is unbelievable,” he added. “I’ve been there a few times and it’s the most comfortable for me.”
Wagner was the subject of an intense recruiting battle between in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville and had close family ties to both programs. Calipari coached Wagner’s father, Dajuan, at Memphis, and first-year Louisville coach Kenny Payne played with Wagner’s grandfather, Milt, on Louisville’s 1986 national championship team.
In May, Payne hired Milt Wagner as director of player development and alumni relations, a move similar to Calipari’s hiring of Milt at Memphis in 2000. Kareem Watkins, Wagner’s half-brother, is a walk-on at Kentucky.
He said, “My older brother Karim is in the team. “It’s made a huge difference. I can see him; we’re so close.
“My grandfather was always my grandfather throughout this process. He never tried to recruit me. He always had the best for me. He was a mentor in my life and helped shape me as a player and a person. He always will be. Home first. group. Nothing but love for him.”
A 6-foot-3 guard from Camden High School (New Jersey), Wagner was considered the best prospect in the class of 2023 early in his high school career. He participated in the NJ Scholars entry-level program last spring and summer, averaging 18.8 points and 4.9 assists in the Nike EYBL circuit, scoring 20 points nine times in 18 games. As a high school senior last season, Wagner averaged 19.8 points and led Camden to the New Jersey state championship.
Wagner also helped USA Basketball win a gold medal at the 2022 FIBA U17 World Championship, appearing in all seven games and averaging 9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
He brings a real competitive spirit to the game; Winning is the most important thing for Wagner. I went with the hope of winning a gold medal in USA basketball. He plays in transition and is at his best in the open court. He can be a defensive back and push the ball up the floor as well as anyone in the class. He puts a lot of pressure on defenses with his speed to score and vision to pass. He’s a point guard in the mold of Cleveland Cavaliers star Darius Garland.
Wagner’s improvement from the perimeter is good when the game slows in the half court. He’s learning how to control the composition in qualifiers, and he’s always been able to get downhill, get into the paint, and finish with a high level of body control. He’s decisive once he gets in the paint and knows when to pull, jump, stop, use his floater or hit a shot to an open teammate. Defensively, he protects the ball well and receives the ball well.
Wagner joins a Kentucky class that now includes four of the top eight prospects in the 2023 class, with Justin Edwards (No. 2), Aaron Bradshaw (No. 5) and Robert Dillingham (No. 8) already enrolling. The Wildcats also signed Reed Sheppard, the No. 26 pick.
It’s just the third time in the last 10 years that one school has had four top 10 picks in the same class: Kentucky in 2013, Duke with five of the top 9 in 2017.
“I’m going there to win,” Wagner said. “Winning comes first to me and I want to help Kentucky win as much as I can.”