No. 1 recruit DJ Wagner prefers Kentucky to Louisville

No. 1 recruit DJ Wagner prefers Kentucky to Louisville

DJ Wagner, the No. 1 high school senior, announced his commitment to Kentucky men’s basketball Monday, choosing the Wildcats over Louisville.

Wagner’s involvement puts John Calipari and Kentucky in the #1 recruiting class in the country. If the Wildcats finish the cycle at the top — and Wagner’s promise likely seals that — it will be the seventh time since Calipari took over at Lexington that Kentucky has the top-tier recruit class. Wagner is also the fourth No. 1 recruit to commit to the Wildcats under Calipari, following Shaedon Sharpe, Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis.

“It was an extremely difficult decision that I went back and forth with for a long time. That’s why it took so long,” Wagner told ESPN. “I am very happy with my decision. Coach John Calipari has always been direct and honest with me. He said he would be with me one way or another until the wheels come off the car. And that meant so much to me. Watching him As a coach, I could feel the intensity of how he disciplines his team and how he breaks it up.”

“The atmosphere in Kentucky is incredible,” he added. “I’ve been there several times and that’s where I feel most comfortable.”

Wagner was the subject of an intense recruiting battle between rivals in the state of Kentucky and Louisville, with strong family ties to both programs. Calipari coached Wagner’s father Dajuan in Memphis, and Louisville first-year coach Kenny Payne played on Louisville’s national championship team in 1986 with Wagner’s grandfather Milt.

In May, Payne hired Milt Wagner as the program’s director of player development and alumni relations — a similar move to when Calipari hired Milt in Memphis in 2000. Wagner’s stepbrother Kareem Watkins is a walk-on in Kentucky.

“My older brother Kareem is on the team,” he said. “That made a big difference. I look up to him, we are very close.

“My grandfather was always my grandfather 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 grow me into the player and the To develop the person that I am. He will always be family first. Nothing but love for him.”

Wagner, a 6-foot-3 security guard at Camden High School, N.J., has been considered the top candidate in the class of 2023 since the beginning of his high school career. He averaged in the NJ Scholars grassroots program this past spring and summer 18.8 points and 4.9 assists on the Nike EYBL circuit, including nine 20-point attempts in 18 games. As a high school junior last season, Wagner averaged 19.8 points and led Camden to a New Jersey state championship.

Wagner also helped lead USA basketball to a gold medal at the 2022 FIBA ​​U17 World Championships by starting all seven games and averaging 9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

He brings real competitive spirit into play; Winning is of paramount importance to Wagner. He went to USA Basketball with the mentality of winning a gold medal. He is best in the open and plays in the transition game. He can bounce defensively and then shove the ball to the ground as well as anyone in the class. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense with his speed at scoring and his vision when assisting. He’s a point guard in the shape of Cleveland Cavaliers star Darius Garland.

When the game slows down on the halffield, Wagner’s improvement from the touchline has been an asset. He’s learning to orchestrate pick and rolls and he’s always been an effective downhill penetrator, penetrating color and ending with high-level body control. He’s crucial once he gets in the paint, and knows when to pull up, jump and use his floater, or step over to an open teammate for a shot. Defensively, he is effective at blocking the ball and has good anticipation off the ball as 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 joining. The Wildcats also signed Reed Sheppard at No. 26.

This is only the third time in the past 10 years that a school has landed four top 10 candidates in the same class: Kentucky in 2013, which had five of the top nine, and Duke in 2017.

“I come there to win,” said Wagner. “Winning is my number one priority and I want to help Kentucky win as much as possible.”

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