BOZICH |  John Calipari is flexing on college basketball again |  Sports

BOZICH | John Calipari is flexing on college basketball again | Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The loss to Saint Peter’s should have shaken the recruiting mojo of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.

How do you lose an NCAA Tournament game to a low major program that lost six games in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and finished three games behind Iona — when the UK roster featured college basketball’s consensus player of the year? That’s ugly.

Then there was the Wildcats’ 9-16 record in 2021, when they lost to Georgia Tech, Georgia, Richmond and Louisville?

Surely that made elite prospects wonder if legitimate slippage was underway in Lexington. The train has not traveled from Lexington to the Final Four since 2015, even when Calipari had Final Four talent.

Then there was the arrival of Kenny Payne as the University of Louisville head coach last spring. That started a change in the Cardinal administration that also featured the arrival of Milt Wagner as the program’s director of player development and alumni relations.

John Calipari has mutated the alarm bells.

They’re tossing the confetti in Rupp Arena. They’re cueing the pep band. The message boards are singing.

Kentucky is flexing on the rest of college basketball again.

The news will not be official until 3 pm but DJ Wagner (Milt’s grandson), the consensus pick as the top high school senior in America, figures to take his place with John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley and others who entrusted Calipari to handle their brief college careers on the path to NBA mega millions.

Calipari is not only dunking on Louisville. He is dunking on everybody in the current recruiting sweepstakes.

The pending commitment by Wagner will give Kentucky a class with prospects that are ranked No. 1 (Wagner); No. 2 (forward Justin Edwards); No. 6 (center Aaron Bradshaw, Wagner’s teammate at Camden (NJ) High School); No. 9 (guard Robert Dillingham) and No. 29 (guard Reed Sheppard, son of former UK stars Jeff Sheppard and Stacey Reed).

That is four players in the Top 10. Only one more program (Duke, of course) has commitments from more than a single Top 10 2023 kid.

That is five UK recruits in the Top 30. The remainder of the Southeastern Conference has 3 Top 30 commitments (one each by Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn). The entire Big Ten has one—by Michigan State.

Nobody had 4 Top 10 commitments in the 2022 class. North did it happen in 2021.

According to the data at 247Sports, this is the first time a program earned commitments from 4 Top 10 recruits since 2014, when Calipari actually signed 5: Julius Randle (No. 2); Andrew Harrison (No. 5); Aaron Harrison (No. 6); James Young (No. 9) and Dakari Johnson (No. 10).

The headline today will be Wagner picked Kentucky over Louisville when he should be the best high school players are picking Kentucky over everybody.

Calipari was the first college coach to make Kentucky The Preferred Destination for players interested in spending a year (or maybe two) in college.

Run those NBA highlights of Gilgeous-Alexander, Booker, Fox and Maxey over and over and over. All of them rank among the Top 25 scorers in the NBA this season. Powerful stuff.

Mike Krzyzewski got Duke in that game after he saw how well it worked in Lexington. For several years, Coach K exceeded Calipari.

But Coach K walked into retirement last spring — and Calipari has taken his recruiting game up a notch.

The pending commitment from Wagner will confirm that. What pushed Wagner to Lexington, not Louisville?

DJ Wagner can speak about that at his press conference. But it’s not difficult to fill in the blanks.

Calipari has the proven track record of getting players into the NBA Draft Lottery after one season. Payne and Louisville do not.

Calipari coached Wagner’s father, Dajuan, during his one-and-done career at Memphis two decades ago. Calipari got Dajuan to the 6th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Calipari brought Wagner’s half-brother, Kareem Watkins, a 5 foot, 8 inch guard, on the UK roster as a walk-on player in 2020.

Calipari has Lance Ware, another former Camden High star, in the Wildcats’ front court.

Calipari earned the commitment from Bradshaw, Wagner’s buddy from high school and AAU basketball.

Kentucky has the Nike connection — and Wagner has a Nike deal and grew up in Nike’s EYBL AAU circuit.

Kentucky’s NIL program makes the Wildcats a player in any recruitment.

Kentucky did not have every advantage is this recruitment. But Calipari had more than enough as well as the motivation to show that he hasn’t lost his fastball.

John Calipari is flexing on Louisville and the rest of college basketball again.

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