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D.J. Wagner’s Addition Could Give Kentucky Top Backcourt in 2024

Wagner teaming up with fellow elite point guard Robert Dillingham should spell doom for opponents next season.

D.J. Wagner’s addition to Kentucky’s 2023 haul all but guaranteed that Kentucky will overtake Duke for the country’s No. 1 class. (The SI All-American team recruiting rankings will be released Thursday.)

Wagner picking the Wildcats over Louisville wasn’t overly shocking. The tide has turned over the last few months to Lexington.

John Calipari’s Freudian slip last month only solidified the conversation on the backchannels pointing the 6'3" point guard toward Big Blue Nation. During the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club basketball tipoff luncheon, Calipari said, “I may get another kid where I coached his dad.”

Wagner’s father Dajuan Wagner suited up for Calipari at Memphis in 2002 and became his first one-and-done player when he went No. 6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

D.J. Wagner

Wagner had a dominant summer in the Nike EYBL.

What it means for Kentucky

Naturally, landing a consensus top-three prospect in any class is a plus, but with another top-tier point guard in Robert Dillingham already in the fold for next season, could it be too much of a good thing?

Both Wagner and Dillingham are high-IQ, ball-dominant guards with three-level scoring ability who thrive as playmakers using their exceptional athletic ability, placing both players near the top tier of most NBA mock draft boards for 2024. The good thing is that those attributes allow both players to slide over to the scoring guard spot and dominate off the ball.

Between the two, Dillingham is the more likely pick to play more exclusively off the ball because of his innate ability to break down defenders off the dribble, pull up on a dime and efficiently drain deep shots under heavy duress. Dillingham is at his best when he’s in attack mode and moves well without the ball, a lost art in the high school game.

Wagner, an exceptional scorer in his own right, thrives as a floor general, quarterbacking the offense and picking his spots at the most opportune times. Wagner’s presence on the floor will likely upgrade the production of fellow incoming classmates Justin Edwards, Reed Sheppard and Aaron Bradshaw—his teammate at Camden (N.J.) High School this season. 

The most likely scenario for Kentucky next season is that whoever gets the rebound or the outlet pass on that possession is the point guard, while the other guy fans out on the wing to create.

Flooding the court with interchangeable playmakers, specifically in the backcourt, is the recipe for success in the current game. Just ask the last two national champions, Baylor and Kansas.

Dillingham and Wagner already have a great rapport, which will likely speed up the chemistry-building process, and both have extensive experience playing with other dominant lead guards. Wagner played with Boogie Fland and Jeremy Fears for USA Basketball’s gold-medal-winning U17 squad this summer, and Dillingham starred with Aden Holloway for CP3 in the Nike EYBL. 

If egos stay off the hardwood in Lexington next season, Calipari could realistically boast the country’s top backcourt.

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