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Who’s next to join Kentucky’s basketball recruiting class?

Who’s next to join Kentucky’s basketball recruiting class?

Star basketball recruit DJ Wagner competed at the Nike EYBL event in Louisville with his New Jersey Scholars team.

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Robert Dillingham joined Reed Sheppard in Kentucky’s basketball recruiting class of 2023 with a commitment to the Wildcats on Friday night.

Who’s next for John Calipari?

247Sports analyst Travis Branham talked to the Herald-Leader late last week about a number of possible additions to UK’s 2023 class. He mentioned three names, in particular, as players that meet the criteria of being high on Kentucky’s radar and have a very realistic shot of ending up in Lexington.

Those three recruits: combo guard DJ Wagner, forward Ron Holland and center Aaron Bradshaw.

Kentucky hosted Bradshaw and Holland for official visits earlier this month. Wagner, of course, is a longtime UK target with close ties to Calipari. All three go into the summer atop UK’s recruiting wish list.

Wagner — a 6-foot-3 prospect from Camden, N.J. — remains the No. 1 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings and has dominated the recruiting headlines this year. His story is well told: son of Dajuan Wagner, the original Calipari one-and-done at Memphis; and grandson of Milt Wagner, the Louisville legend, former Calipari staffer, and close friend of Kenny Payne who recently joined the U of L basketball payroll in an off-the-court role.

Branham placed a Crystal Ball prediction for the Cards in April — and many seem to think Wagner to Louisville is basically a done deal — but this recruitment remains fluid.

“My read on the situation is still about the same as it was two or three weeks ago,” Branham told the Herald-Leader. “It is a very tight battle. Information is a little mixed, depending on who you talk to. Right now, I think Louisville still holds a slight edge, but Kentucky is not going away anytime soon. This is going to be a heavyweight battle all the way to the end.”

Calipari clearly wants to add one more dynamic guard to a 2023 class that already includes Dillingham and Sheppard, with Wagner the clear No. 1 on his list. And this one’s not over yet.

Regarding Bradshaw’s recruitment, Branham had better news for UK fans.

“I probably would consider Kentucky the leader right now,” he said. “And Louisville is up there, as well. I think that Kentucky is in a really good place with Aaron Bradshaw, heading into the final months of summer.”

The 7-footer from New Jersey — a high school and Nike league teammate of Wagner’s — took visits to both Kentucky and Louisville earlier this month. He’s No. 15 in the 247Sports composite rankings but has immense potential. Bradshaw could very well end up as the top-ranked center in the 2023 class, with UK and Louisville looking like the most realistic college options.

On Monday afternoon, Branham logged a Crystal Ball pick in Kentucky’s favor, marking the first expert pick on Bradshaw’s 247Sports page.

Holland — listed as a 6-8 forward from Texas — is the No. 11 player in the 2023 composite rankings. He earned a UK scholarship offer during his official visit to Lexington earlier this month and shortly thereafter released a new recruiting list: UK, Arkansas, Texas, UCLA and the G League.

For much of the past year, it was expected — almost assumed — in recruiting circles that Holland would skip college altogether and head straight to the professional ranks. Judging from conversations with insiders over the past few weeks, that sentiment has died down, and it’s now looking like college is a realistic possibility for the five-star forward.

Tasked last month with the unenviable job of making “too early predictions” for top uncommitted recruits, Branham pegged Kentucky as the team to beat for Holland.

“I think I called that one a ‘way’ too early prediction,” he told the Herald-Leader late last week. “I think this one is pretty wide-open right now. Just asking around, I don’t think anybody really feels confident in who a leader is at this moment. But, Kentucky — it sounds like that visit went well. And Kentucky looks to be in a good place.”

Duke already has a huge jumpstart on the 2023 class, with four commitments from players in the top 25 of the 247Sports composite rankings, led by a pledge from No. 3-recruit Mackenzie Mgbako. Kentucky could still catch the Blue Devils, however.

“They have a shot at landing a really elite class,” Branham said of UK. “They would land the No. 1 class, I believe, if they were to knock this out of the park. You add DJ, Aaron Bradshaw and Ron Holland to Rob and Reed — that’s as good a class as anyone in the country.”

Not going to Kentucky?

One longtime UK recruiting target that definitely won’t be playing for the Wildcats is five-star wing Matas Buzelis, who announced a commitment to the G League on Friday.

Kentucky has also extended scholarship offers to four additional players in the 2023 class: Justin Edwards, Kwame Evans Jr., Andrej Stojakovic and JJ Taylor.

Edwards has long been at the top of Calipari’s 2023 wish list, but league rival Tennessee has swooped in over the past few months to pose a major challenge. “Right now, I would say he’s definitely trending toward Tennessee,” Branham said. “Plain as that.”

Over the past week, Branham has also put in new Crystal Ball predictions for Evans to Arizona and Stojakovic to UCLA. Taylor, meanwhile, has become a recruiting enigma. The Chicago native has fallen drastically in the rankings — from consensus top five to No. 32 on 247Sports’ board — and did not join his Nike team for the league games in Louisville a few weeks ago. There hasn’t been much sign of Kentucky interest in his recruitment in recent months.

Recruits to watch

It seems quite possible that Kentucky could ultimately end up with a player or two not currently on their offer list. Or maybe a recruit not even currently in the 2023 class.

Rivals.com analyst Travis Graf recently put in a FutureCast prediction in favor of Kentucky for 2023 center Ugonna Kingsley, who has been followed by the Wildcats’ coaching staff this spring and bears watching as the cycle continues. He’s the No. 23 player in the new 247Sports composite rankings.

The Cats have also been connected to Rhode Island 7-footer Isaiah Miranda, who is No. 27 on the composite list and visited Lexington in December, though he left that trip without a UK scholarship offer and still has not received one. Still, he remains a possibility.

Another intriguing 2023 big is Xavier Booker, a 6-10 prospect from Indianapolis who played in front of Calipari earlier this month. Booker has skyrocketed up the recruiting charts this spring — Rivals now ranks him No. 2 overall; 247Sports ranks him No. 4 — though Kentucky’s interest is just beginning.

Branham said he didn’t think it was necessarily too late for UK to make a run at Booker, but he does already have offers from Duke and Michigan State (two possible leaders) and a host of others.

“It’s just a matter of whether Calipari really wants to get in the mix there,” he said. “I think that’s one that’s going to play out into the fall. He’s already finished five visits this year, but things are still obviously evolving with him. So, he’s going to want to take more visits this fall. And it’s going to take a little bit more time for him to get to where he wants to be before making that decision.”

New York shooting guard Ian Jackson does have a Kentucky scholarship offer, but he’s in the 2024 class (and might soon be the No. 1-ranked player in that group). Jackson is already flirting with a possible move to the 2023 class, though some reliable insiders in the recruiting world think, for now, that he’ll stay put in 2024. It’s a situation Kentucky will monitor closely, and the Cats would love to have a super-scorer like Jackson in either class.

“It’s too early to tell,” Branham said. “(Reclassification) definitely is an option, per my understanding, and I think it’s something that’s going to be on the table. But I don’t think that’s a decision that’s going to be made anytime soon.”

One player Branham is monitoring: AJ Johnson, a 6-5 guard from the Los Angeles area now ranked No. 38 overall by 247Sports. The analyst said Wagner would remain UK’s top priority in the backcourt, but Johnson is an intriguing talent who’s quickly rising in the rankings.

“He’s a kid that is exploding out in California,” Branham said. “I watched him this past weekend — Chin Coleman was there, as well — and Louisville just offered. This is a kid that thinks very highly of the University of Kentucky. And he is looking like a top-10 prospect right now. He’s 6-5, long — very thin, right now, but a great athlete. He can really, really score. Very dynamic with the ball in his hands, and he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.

“ … So he is one that I’ll be keeping a close eye on to see if Kentucky gets more involved as the summer rolls on.”

This story was originally published June 27, 2022 7:00 AM.

Who’s next to join Kentucky’s basketball recruiting class?

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football, horse racing and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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