John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats brought in a massive recruiting haul for the 2023 class. The Cats have the top recruiting class in the country, and it’s headlined by none other than the son of a former top Calipari guard—D.J. Wagner.
#21 D.J. Wagner
- Position: Point guard
- Class: Freshman
- Measurements: 6-foot-4, 192 lbs.
- Hometown: Camden, New Jersey
- School: Camden High School
- High School Recruit Rankings: No. 6 nationally, No. 1 CG via 247 Sports Composite Rankings
If the name sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. D.J. Wagner’s father, Dajuan Wagner, played college basketball for the Memphis Tigers under John Calipari before being selected sixth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002. D.J.’s grandfather is Milt Wagner, who won a national championship at Louisville in 1986 and was a second-round pick by the Dallas Mavericks in 1986. And he’s the step-brother of senior walk-on guard Kareem Watkins.
Well, is that enough connections for you? Don’t forget that he was high school teammates with former Kentucky center Lance Ware and current Kentucky center Aaron Bradshaw.
Wagner has been the most highly sought-after recruit since he entered the high school ranks. As a freshman, Wagner averaged 18.5 points en route to earning MaxPreps Freshman All-American honors. As a junior, he averaged 19.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 3.1 steals per game, helping Camden to the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship.
As a senior, he averaged 22.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, leading his team to a 23–2 record.
Rated as high as No. 4 overall in the country, Wagner was named the Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year for three consecutive seasons. He was selected to the USA Men’s Nike Hoop Summit and was named the Iverson Classic National High School Player of the Year, on top of NJ.com First-Team All-State honors.
On January 24, 2023, Wagner became the first third-generation McDonald’s All-American, joining both his father and grandfather. But it wasn't just enough to be selected for the game. Wagner took home MVP honors while dropping 19 points and tallied two rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks. He followed that up by winning the Iverson Classic three-point contest and won CO-MVP honors at the Iverson Classic Game, as well, after scoring 19 points and dishing out 6 assists.
The highly-touted recruit had offers from just about every school in the country, but he ultimately picked the Cats over Kenny Payne and the Louisville Cardinals in a recruitment that had no shortage of drama.
While it’s best to temper expectations for all freshmen, even the highest-ranking ones, we all expect a huge season out of Wagner. Despite falling to No. 6 in his high school class, Wagner was the consensus No. 1 high school recruit for several years before being upended in his junior season. The expectations are still unsurprisingly sky-high, and he will surely be playing with a chip on his shoulder due to the dip.
Luckily, we’ve already been able to see him in action, albeit somewhat limited. Over the summer in the GLOBL JAM tournament in Canada, Wagner averaged 14 points, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He shot 42% from the field and 33.3% from long range and played more than 30 minutes per game.
We’ve learned over the years to take summer tour games with a grain of salt, but the competition the Cats faced was stiffer than in recent trips.
Wagner has already been named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s preseason watch list for the 2024 Bob Cousy Award, which selects 20 candidates for the best point guard in college basketball.
What makes D.J. so special is that he’s the ultimate competitor. He has an endless motor that does not stop on either end of the floor.
Wager is a versatile scoring threat who excels as a vicious attacker offensively using his elite speed and tight handle. He also has great body control and can change speeds with ease. Wagner finishes well with both hands at the rim and should be an efficient paint scorer.
Although he’s on the smaller side (I don’t believe the 6-foot-4 height listed by UK), he is still great at creating for himself and others. Sometimes, he forces the issue and tries to do too much, but hopefully, that’ll get ironed out. He’s an okay shooter, but the jumper has to get better.
If you noticed above, I listed Wagner as a point guard—the position he’s expected to play at Kentucky—but most recruiting services listed him as a combo guard. That’s likely due to his attacking nature, but there’s no doubt that he’s at his best with the ball in his hands.
Look at DJ Wagner's transformation with strength and conditioning coach Brady Welsh— Wyatt Huff (@Wildcat_wave) November 2, 2023
Brady Welsh/ IG pic.twitter.com/E4BKSgTwOa
This season at Kentucky, while probably his only season in Lexington, Wagner will look to prove he’s the best player in the country once again. His goal is surely to win a national title, but he’s also seeking to become the first-ever third-generation NBA player.
There are always questions surrounding freshmen, but BBN should be excited for Wagner. Cats fans should expect a hardworking, never-give-up type of player in Wagner. He won't back down to anyone and can simply will Kentucky to wins this season.
The five-star prospect clearly has the tools and makeup of a very special player, but the BBN will only get to enjoy it for one season. Let’s hope it’s a good one.