Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has scored another recruiting superclass with the addition of top 2023 prospect DJ Wagner.
Wagner, a 6-foot-3 combo guard from New Jersey, hopped on SportsCenter’s social media accounts Monday afternoon to choose the Wildcats over archrival Louisville. With his signing, Wagner became the fifth member of UK’s loaded 2023 haul, which has since passed Duke for the top spot on 247Sports’ national leaderboard.
“We have five talented and dynamic players who have the drive and commitment it takes to succeed at Kentucky,” the coach said in a news release from UK Athletics formally introducing his 2023 class. “They all know this isn’t for everyone, and they have welcomed that challenge and want to be pushed not only by our coaching staff, but by other really good players every day. Their potential to be great is there, now it is up to them to embrace this stage and come in every day ready to work.”
For Calipari, this is the eighth time he has landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country (per 247Sports’ composite rankings) since arriving in Lexington prior to the 2009-10 season. The other top classes came in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2020.
Wagner is also the third No. 1 prospect in the country (per 247Sports’ composite rankings) to commit to UK during Calipari’s tenure. The other two? Anthony Davis (2011) and Nerlens Noel (2012).
DJ Wagner:Top 2023 basketball recruits, picks Kentucky over rival Louisville
So, how does Calipari’s latest collection of high-profile talent — Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw (C), Robert Dillingham (PG), Justin Edwards (SF) and Reed Sheppard (CG) — stack up against the others that have taken the court at Rupp Arena over the years? Until Wager and company suit up together next year, it’s hard to say.
One could break down each class by 247Sports’ Composite ratings, but that’s not how success is measured at Kentucky. It’s national championships, Final Fours, NBA lottery picks and longevity in the professional ranks. Wagner and company could go down as one of the best to wear the blue and white under Calipari when it’s all said and done, but for now they’ll be chasing the standard set by these five classes:
Enrolled: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer
Why No. 1? It’s easy, really. This recruiting class arrived in Lexington, clicked with a core group of veterans, and produced Calipari’s only national championship.
Davis was crowned the National Player of the Year and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player to cap off a freshman campaign that saw him set a new UK single-season blocks record (186) and average a team-best 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game . He was then selected with the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, and was named to the league’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2021.
Kidd-Gilchrist, who went No. 2 overall in the 2012 draft, averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game during an eight-year NBA career. Teague was also a first-round selection at No. 29 but played only four seasons in the league.
Enrolled: Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins
Why No. 2? Dubbed “the best class ever assembled” by Dick Vitale at the time, this collection of talent arrived in Lexington after a low point of Calipari’s tenure: losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. They responded by reaching the 2014 national championship game — thanks in large part to one clutch shot after another from Aaron Harrison — but fell to Connecticut.
Randle and Young were the class’ only one-and-done players, and the former is nearing a decade in the NBA after being selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the seventh pick in the 2014 draft. Young went 17th overall but played only four seasons at the sport’s highest level.
Returning for the 2014-15 season, the Harrison twins, Johnson and Lee appeared in every game of the Wildcats’ undefeated run to another Final Four appearance. Although the 40-0, national championship campaign didn’t come to fruition — and none of the returners broke through in the NBA — it’s hard to ask for more from a recruiting class than to be one of the last four teams standing in back- to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Kentucky basketball recruiting:These players have committed to the Wildcats’ 2023 class
Enrolled: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Jon Hood, Eric Bledsoe, Darnell Dodson
Why No. 3? Calipari’s first recruiting class reenergized Kentucky basketball by jumping out to a 19-0 start after the program missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991 under former coach Billy Gillispie. Wall went viral with a dance move inspired by Louisville rapper Kenzo, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and had a shot named after him at Lexington’s Two Keys Tavern. Cousins won the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a buzzer-beating layup to send the Wildcats dancing again as a No. 1 seed.
The only thing missing? A Final Four berth. After losing to No. 2 seed West Virginia in the Elite Eight, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe and Orton all declared for the NBA Draft, ending their chances of raising a banner at Rupp Arena.
Wall went to the Washington Wizards at No. 1 overall, and his classmates who declared were all off the board by the end of the first round. Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe have each spent 10 years or more in the NBA, but Wall is the only one who has suited up for the 2022-23 season.
Enrolled: Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker
Why No. 4? Much like the 2009 class, Calipari’s 2014 haul takes a hit in the rankings because more than half of its members made the jump to the NBA Draft (and were first-round selections) after Kentucky’s quest for perfection came crashing down in the 2015 Final Four .
Booker, who didn’t start a game for the Wildcats during their dominant 2014-15 season, has blossomed into one of the most lethal 3-point shooters on the planet. Towns’ trophy case features an NBA Rookie of the Year award. Lyles hasn’t found that level of success but is still hanging around the league as a veteran role player. It’s been said countless times across the Bluegrass State: Think of what UK could have accomplished if this group had stuck around for a couple more seasons.
Ulis, the only member of the class who returned to Lexington, was named a consensus first-team All-American as a sophomore and became the first player since Davis to win the SEC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. The 5-foot-9 Chicago native earned fan-favorite status with his gritty play but declared for the NBA Draft after UK lost to Indiana in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. He has not played in the NBA since the 2018-19 campaign.
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Enrolled: De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones
Why No. 5? This handful of five-star signees took Kentucky to the Elite Eight in 2017 but fell victim to a buzzer-beating shot from North Carolina’s Luke Maye with a Final Four berth on the line. After that, Fox, Adebayo and Monk declared for the NBA Draft and were all off the board in the first 14 picks.
Through the first five years of their professional careers, Fox, Adebayo and Monk are each averaging 10 points or more per game. Adebayo is the only one of the trio to receive All-Star honors and reach the NBA Finals; he did both during the 2019-20 season with the Miami Heat. Fox and Monk, meanwhile, teamed up again with the Sacramento Kings for the 2022-23 campaign.
Gabriel and Killeya-Jones both stayed in Lexington for the 2017-18 season, which ended in a Sweet Sixteen loss to Kansas State. Gabriel then entered the NBA, where he’s played for seven different teams in just three full seasons. Killeya-Jones transferred to NC State and currently plays in the NBA G League.
Reach recruiting and trending sports reporter Brooks Holton at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.