Over the weekend, Nike EYBL made its first-ever stop in Louisville, hosting some of the country’s best high school basketball recruits. The event also marked the first time in over a decade that all of the U15, U16, and U17 EYBL teams were held in the same venue, due to court space.
With that said, I got the opportunity to watch many of the Kentucky Wildcats’ top targets for 2023 and 2024, so let’s check it out.
DJ Wagner (Guard, No. 1 Recruit, 2023 Class)
It’s been known for a while, but after seeing him for the first time in person, DJ Wagner is the real deal. Despite having one of the most talented teams in the Nike EYBL, having two other top-25 teammates, Wagner was the best player on the floor.
As a guard, Wagner showed why he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the class, showing the ability to get to the rim at will and create his own shot off the dribble. Not to mention, consistently getting his teammates involved. On the weekend, Wagner averaged 19 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.2 rebounds on 49.3% from the field and 37% from three.
As the recruitment of Wagner looks to be a two-horse race between Kentucky and Louisville, there was a lot of red in the stands.
The Louisville presence did not only consist of fans, as there was a large presence of former and current Cardinals, notably, Darrell Griffith. Following his first game on Saturday, Wagner told, his team director and former Louisville player, Pervis Ellison, that he wanted to meet “Mr. Dunkenstein” (Griffith), and when he did, “it was a surreal moment for him.”
Despite the recruiting quiet period, DJ’s grandfather and former Louisville great, Milt Wagner, who was just hired to the Louisville staff, was also present. This is allowed as Wagner’s position is considered to be a “university” job. Interestingly enough, he sat on opposite ends of his son and DJ’s father, Dajuan, but this is most likely nothing. DJ’s half-brother and UK walk-on, Kareem Watkins, was also in attendance.
Kwame Evans Jr (Forward, No. 4 Recruit, 2023 Class)
Kwame Evans Jr. is one of the rawest prospects in the 2023 class, and upon first glance, you can physically see why. Listed at 6-foot-10 200-pounds, Evans also has a 7-foot wingspan, making him one of the most physically gifted players in the class.
Along with his height, Evans has great versatility. At his size, he runs the floor well and is able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time whether it be north-south, east-west, or diagonally. Combine this with his underrated court vision and respectable yet improving perimeter shot and ball-handling skills, and it is easily understandable why his ceiling is so high.
However, the biggest criticisms of Evans are his lack of consistency and struggle against physicality, which could both be seen over the weekend. In his worst performance of the weekend, Evans scored all 4 of his points from the free-throw line and added only 1 rebound in 21 minutes. Whereas he shined against Lebron James sponsored Strive For Greatness, recording 16 points (8-9 FG) and 7 rebounds.
As for his recruiting, Oregon and Arizona are the perceived favorites, but Kentucky is still in the mix. Evans took his first official visit to Kentucky back in November and since has only taken one more, Oregon in early May. However, Evans does have official visits scheduled to Arizona and Indiana over the next two weeks.
Justin Edwards (Forward, No. 6 Recruit, 2023 Class)
I was most impressed with Justin Edwards this weekend, not that he was THE best player, but how well he played within the team and his intelligence for the game, showing that may be the best all-around recruit in the class.
While this weekend, outside of a 26-point performance on Saturday afternoon, Edward’s averages did not jump off the page, 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists on 44% shooting from the field and 29.4% from three.
With that said, his impact could be felt. Edwards’ Team Final has one of the best records in the EYBL and was undefeated this weekend. Edwards displayed his intelligence and feel for the game by consistently making the right play on offense and making good reads on defense.
Edwards can shoot, pass, defend, and find his teammates. Combine that with his improved athleticism and basketball IQ and could contend to be a top 3 prospect in the final recruiting rankings.
Following his last game on Monday, Edwards confirmed that Tennessee and Kentucky have separated themselves and that Calipari is in contact with him every day. It looks like it will be a battle of the checkerboards.
Matas Buzelis (Forward, No. 7 Recruit, 2023 Class)
John Calipari has never quite had a player like Matas Buzelis, but is looking to change that as he recruits the top-10, 6-foot-10 wing. A tall-lengthy wing with the perimeter skills of a guard, Buzelis is another versatile player in the 2023 class.
This weekend, Buzelis displayed a good feel for the game and excelled as he had a team with multiple shooters, which created space and gave Buzelis the freedom to create for himself and his teammates.
Helping his team to a 4-1 record this weekend, Buzelis averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. Excluding a bad shooting performance on Monday morning, Buzelis shot 55.5% from the field and 36% from three, displaying his offensive efficiency.
Buzelis iterated after his final game that he is focusing on basketball and improving his game, all the while keeping his recruitment close to the chest. While it has been a quiet recruitment and it still too early to provide anything of confidence, Buzelis did call Kentucky a “perfect” fit.
Buzelis is from Chicago, with ties to UK assistant and former Chicago native, Chin Coleman, who has been recruiting him since his time at Illinois.
Robert Dillingham (Guard, No. 8 Recruit, 2023 Class)
Touted as one of the most electric players in the 2023 class, Robert Dillingham, proved why this weekend. While team CP3 struggled with a 1-4 record without top-ranked recruit, GG Jackson, Dillingham put his offensive repertoire on full display and impressed in every game.
Despite a small 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, Dillingham showed his ability to score at all three levels and why he is one of the best offensive playmakers in this class. Dillingham showcased his speed, finishing ability, ball-handling skills, and perimeter shooting which collectively make him the offensive weapon that he is.
Averaging 22.4 points and 2.6 assists per game, Dillingham was one of the leading scorers over the weekend, doing so at a very efficient clip, shooting 56% from the field and 45% from three.
Another thing fans will like in addition to his electric style of play is his dog mentality and toughness. Dillingham did not back down against anyone or any challenge, reminding me somewhat of Tyler Ulis.
Dillingham is expexted to make his college choice on June 24th, with all the momentum trending towards Kentucky.
Ron Holland (Forward, No. 9 Recruit, 2023 Class)
When describing his own game this weekend, Ron Holland said, “I feel like I’m a position-less player. I can get the job done. I’m a basketball player. I can run the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I can guard the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I bring energy to the table. I do the little things that nobody else likes to do.”
After hearing that, it should come as no surprise to know that Holland is one of the most sought after and one of the best high-energy, high motor players in the country, putting that on full display this weekend.
Offensively, Holland is still working to improve on his respectable jump shot, but still holds the ability to handle the ball well and find his teammates, while still being able to play above the rim and be a force in the paint.
On the defensive end, Holland showed the ability to guard multiple positions, as well as being an active disruptor. His high motor helps him rebound at a high level as well. Something that would be very much welcomed following Tshiebwe’s anticipated departure after this season.
On the weekend, Holland averaged 10.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists on 50% from the field and 28% from three, but most impressively shot 70% from two-point range.
Despite showing late interest in Holland, Kentucky has made his final eight, which also features schools such as Arkansas, Auburn, UCLA, and even the G League. Holland is set to visit Kentucky June 13th-15th.
Aaron Bradshaw (Center, No. 21 Recruit, 2023 Class)
Aaron Bradshaw, a teammate of DJ Wagner, is one of the few remaining big men targets that have expressed high-interest level in Kentucky. Fortunately, he is ranked as the second-best center in the class.
Similar to Kwame Evans, Bradshaw is more of a prospect than a player right now. After only playing in a handful of games as a freshman and sophomore, this past season was his first full schedule in organized basketball but certainly shows the potential to be special.
Team director, Pervis Ellison even talked about Bradshaw’s potential, saying, “If you saw him three years ago and seen the progression that he has gone through, I think the sky is the limit for him… ‘that kid is going to be a future lottery pick.’ He has the mindset, the attitude, and the dedication, so he’s going to be a good one.”
With that said, Bradshaw looked the part this weekend, averaging 15 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks on 55% shooting from the field. At times, shined the brightest on the court. This was Bradshaw’s best weekend of Nike EYBL 2022, showing the ability to consistently play well against high-level competition.
While a date has not been made official, it is presumed that Bradshaw will be visiting Kentucky in June. His other finalists include the G League, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma State, and UCLA. While Louisville is an option, and he has mentioned the possibility of him and Wagner playing together, he is willing to go elsewhere.
Milan Momcilovic (Forward, No. 35 Recruit, 2023 Class)
Size and versatility seem to be a theme in Kentucky’s targets, and Milan Momcilovic is no different. Standing 6-foot-8, Momcilovic is not the greatest athlete but is one of the most skilled offensive players in the 2023 class.
As a top-50 four-star recruit, Momcilovic is slightly outside of Kentucky’s normal recruiting radius but caught the staff’s attention back in April after torching scoring performances against the likes of Justin Edwards.
This weekend Momcilovic displayed the ability to play inside and out. Putting his three-point shot on display, as he averaged nearly 3 made per contest, while also showing his great footwork and ability to play out of the post. As the go-to guy for Team Herro, Momcilovic averaged 23.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on 46% shooting from the field and 32% from three.
Kentucky has shown interest but has not offered Momcilovic, and his recruitment has been pretty quiet. If Kentucky does wish to pursue Momcilovic further, he plays for Nike EYBL’s Team Herro, which is sponsored by former Wildcat Tyler Herro and coached by Herro’s father.
Tre Johnson (Guard, No. 3 Recuit, 2024 Class)
John Calipari does not like to show much interest until the summer of a recruit going from their junior to senior year, however, Tre Johnson is a top-five recruit in 2024 that Kentucky has expressed a lot of interest in.
Johnson has created a reputation for being an elite shooter and a pure shooting guard, something that Kentucky will always welcome. With such a pretty and fluid shooting form, it is easy to see why.
On the weekend, Johnson was one of the leading scorers, averaging 21.5 points on 48% shooting from the field and 47% shooting from three, while also averaging nearly 4 made threes per game. With that said, Johnson is also comfortable utilizing his mid-range game. As for areas of improvement, Johnson does need to become a more confident ball handler and assist-maker, which will round out his all-around game.
Johnson has called Kentucky his “dream school”, which has seemingly become a curse, and looks up to former UK guard, Tyrese Maxey, who is from the same area as Johnson. Both of these things should help Kentucky as they get more involved.
That covers the bases for Nike EYBL’s stop in Louisville and UK’s targets. Be on the lookout for my interviews, which will be released throughout the rest of this week, where I go a little more in-depth on each player!