The recruitment of DJ Wagner is hitting the home stretch, and it’s widely believed he’s Bluegrass-bound to play for either the Kentucky Wildcats or Louisville Cardinals.
At the moment, Wagner is competing in the Nike Peach Jam, the biggest AAU event of the year, although he’ll soon be zeroed in on wrapping up his recruitment.
So, we decided it’s time to gather our staff and make some predictions on where the consensus top-three recruit lands.
Of course, we want to hear your thoughts as well, so sound off in the comments section!
Now, time for our predictions.
You won’t see many recruitments with the kinds of peaks and valleys this one has had.
For several years, Kentucky was viewed as a virtual lock to get Wagner due to John Calipari’s ties to the Wagner family.
However, new Louisville head coach Kenny Payne also has deep ties to the Wagners, namely winning the 1986 national championship with DJ’s grandfather, Milt Wagner. Payne recently named Milt as director of player development and alumni relations.
Another connection is Pervis Ellison, who played with Payne on the 1986 title team and is the program director for DJ’s AAU team, the NJ Scholars.
So yeah, the Cards have a lot of things going in their favor, but so does Kentucky.
DJ’s father, Dajuan Wagner, played for John Calipari at Memphis while Milt was the school’s director of basketball operations.
On the current Kentucky basketball roster, Kentucky has Lance Ware, a high school and AAU teammate of Wagner.
Kentucky also has walk-on Kareem Watkins, the stepbrother of Wagner.
Perhaps the deep ties on both sides explain why both schools have thought to be near-locks to get Wagner at various points in recent months.
When Payne was hired, momentum for the Cards grew to the point recruiting analyst Jamie Shaw said the Wagner recruitment was already “done” in favor of Louisville.
Just a few weeks later, Shaw changed his tune so much that he now believes Kentucky has a 95% chance of landing Wagner. Every recruiting prediction logged over the last month has been in favor of the Cats.
I don’t believe Kentucky is ‘that’ heavy of a favorite, although the recent tea leaves suggest the 5-star guard will be a Cat, including his new deal with Drake and Nike-based NOCTA (Kentucky is a Nike school while Louisville and adidas). Wagner himself, however, downplayed how big of a deal it really is during an interview with Zags Blog’s Jacob Polacheck.
Wagner also continues to maintain he’ll be taking more college visits, and he has yet to visit Louisville. If he does eventually visit there, you have to wonder if things will swing back in favor of the Cards.
One factor not getting much attention right now is Louisville’s impending punishment from the NCAA as a result of the pay-for-play scheme involving Brian Bowen, which came while the school was already on probation from the exotic dancer scandal (read more about the sage here).
It stands to reason that Louisville will be punished significantly for being involved in a pay-for-play scheme while on probation from a scandal so severe that it led to a national title and 123 wins being vacated. I believe a multi-season postseason ban is on the table. If that happens, Wagner, nor any big-time 2023 recruit, is going to Louisville knowing they’ll be sitting at home for the NCAA Tournament.
Admittedly, I wonder if this black cloud looming over Louisville is costing them with Wagner and other recruits. There were several big-time transfers in this cycle that Louisville was rumored to be favored for but ultimately missed on.
After all, Kenny Payne is a real one, and I have to think if he’s being 100% honest with recruits, he’s telling them that a multi-year postseason ban is very much in the cards, no pun intended.
In the end, I believe Kentucky wins out, but I don’t believe this is a done deal by any stretch and could present a few more twists and turns before it’s all over.
This has been a roller-coaster recruitment to follow to say the least. It first looked like Kentucky had this one wrapped up before Louisville hired coach Payne and then hired Milt.
Landing Wagner would not only give Kentucky one of, if not the best backcourts in the country next season, with Wagner pairing up with Robert Dillingham, but it would be a big recruiting win for Calipari over one of his former top assistants.
When you look at potential roster makeups and the potential for Louisville to be dealing with NCAA sanctions, it almost makes no sense for Wagner to go there, even with his grandfather working for the school.
Kentucky not only offers Wagner a bigger stage to play on with much better talent surrounding him, it offers him a much better path to his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA.
This recruitment has become one of the most intriguing to follow in the class, and especially across the Commonwealth.
For a minute it seemed that all hope was lost and that Wagner would end up at Louisville.
Then out of nowhere, the buzz picked back up for Kentucky.
If things continue to trend in the direction they are currently, Wagner and Robert Dillingham will contend to be one of the best backcourts in college basketball next season. While Louisville can offer the star player role, Kentucky can offer him a legitimate chance to play for a National Championship, especially if fellow top-five recruit Justin Edwards becomes a Cat on Monday.
Not to mention the huge head-to-head win this would be for John Calipari against Kenny Payne on the recruiting trail.
All told, I think the relationship his father has with Coach Cal, and what the Cats can offer win out.
Depending on which service you look at, DJ Wagner is currently ranked as the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the 2023 class. Wagner has certainly proved himself, and at this point, his recruitment is more about the battle between Kentucky and Louisville.
Louisville, of course, hired DJ’s grandfather, Milt Wagner, back in May in a “university” position as director of player development. However, Kentucky has close connections to DJ as well. DJ’s father Dajuan played under Cal, his step-brother and self-admitted “blood brother” Kareem Watkins is a walk-on, and could join former teammate Lance Ware.
There have been so many reports regarding Wagner’s commitment and where he is leaning, that I have effectively tuned them out. At this point, I have taken the belief that no one truly knows where Wagner is leaning outside of himself and his family, and I will carry that belief until he makes his decision.
For now, I would say the relationships at Kentucky and the staff’s proven track record pushes DJ towards the Wildcats.
Whew — where do you even start with this one!
It’s yet to be determined just what kind of career DJ Wagner will have when it’s all said and done. But I believe it’s safe to say that his recruitment can be classified as generational, especially if you’re a basketball fan with ties to the state of Kentucky.
The legacy recruiting aspect of the situation put Calipari and the Cats in the driver’s seat from day one. For years, it’s been a major flex for Coach Cal and a comforting notion for the Big Blue Nation to know that one of the best players in the class of 2023 was a near-lock to come to Lexington.
Obviously, things got cloudy when the ultra-respected Kenny Payne took over as head coach at the University of Louisville. Bringing DJ’s grandfather, Milt Wagner, into the fold has really heated things up!
Ultimately, the last few months have been a lot of hype, but I think things stick to what’s always been the plan and DJ Wagner is in Lexington in the fall of 2023.
I’ve had the opportunity to see Wagner play, and the smoothness at which he operates is fun to watch. Just like his father, Wagner is wired to score and has a nobody-can-guard-me attitude.
I have faith he has the chance to be a special player and eventual NBA lottery pick, but I would caution folks to taper their expectations just a bit if things do work out and Wagner does become a Cat. We all know that the college game can be clunky, causing even top-tier talent to take some time acclimatizing.
Also, keep in mind that the group that joins Wagner in the class of 2023 will have a big impact on his output and stats.
But make no mistake about it, DJ Wagner is the real deal and will be cooking up defenders in college and beyond.
Calipari has been practically recruiting DJ Wagner since he could walk. And while Milt being involved with the UofL basketball program in some capacity does make things a little tighter for the Cards, I think DJ is Kentucky bound just for the simple fact that Dajuan trusted Calipari with his future when he was at Memphis, and I believe that DJ and Dajuan will trust him again at Kentucky.
Personally, I do believe that Louisville is in a good position with DJ, and he will almost certainly take a visit there. I would be shocked, shocked, if he made a decision without taking an official to Louisville.
However, with recent news that DJ is involved in some fashion with Drake’s sub-brand of Nike, I think Calipari might have reached into his old bag and started getting serious again.