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'He is No. 1 by a large margin.' And Kentucky has a real shot to land his commitment.

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 6/16/2021 Ben Roberts, Lexington Herald-Leader

Jun. 16—The basketball recruiting rankings for the class of 2023 have been updated, but there's no change at the top of the list.

Don't expect one anytime soon.

Rivals.com released a new batch of 2023 rankings Wednesday that included several additions, plenty of risers and fallers, but the same name in the No. 1 spot. That's DJ Wagner, the New Jersey point guard who has extensive ties to Kentucky's John Calipari and has long been viewed as the top player in the class.

"He is No. 1 by a large margin," Rivals.com national analyst Rob Cassidy told the Herald-Leader. "He does everything so well. He's got the length. He defends. He scores. Truly at all three levels. You have people that you call three-level scorers, but this guy can really do it all, and he finishes with both hands. He's extremely polished for a kid that's so young. He has upside to him, too, but you can tell he's been coached. You can tell he knows what he's doing. He's a facilitator. In my mind right now ... I just think he's probably No. 1 regardless of class. That's how far ahead of his peers he is."

Wagner — a 6-foot-3 playmaker from Camden, N.J. — averaged 22.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game this past season. In his two years at Camden High School, he's helped lead that program to a 42-1 overall record.

Cassidy noted that the Rivals.com staff has had debates recently about who to put in the top spot for the 2021 and 2022 classes, but there were no disagreements over 2023. Wagner seems to be everyone's unanimous choice as the top rising junior in the country. He's also ranked No. 1 by ESPN and 247Sports, and he recently earned national sophomore of the year honors from MaxPreps.com.

"Right now, there's not really a conversation in this class, other than DJ," Cassidy said. "So I expect him to stay No. 1 for a while."

Kentucky hasn't landed the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit since Nerlens Noel committed to the Wildcats in 2012, but Wagner might represent Calipari's best chance to sign such a player. Wagner's father is Dajuan Wagner, who was Calipari's first major recruit at Memphis. His grandfather is former Louisville star Milt Wagner, who was on Calipari's staff at Memphis.

The Wagner family remains close to Calipari, and the general thinking in recruiting circles is that DJ Wagner will end up at Kentucky, if he plays college basketball.

Rivals.com recently posted a "fact or fiction" feature, with analysts asked to predict whether Wagner would play college ball or turn pro straight out of high school. Cassidy acknowledged he was going out on a limb, but he predicted Wagner would go the college route, despite what is likely to be an offer around the seven figures to go pro instead.

Is there really a chance he'll go to college?

"Dajuan Wagner's family wants people to think that," Cassidy said this week. "They are very much in the camp of, 'This isn't done. We want DJ to be recruited. We want Kentucky to recruit him — we want everyone to recruit him.' They've put it out there that this is not a done deal.

"I think there's probably more of a chance than people think."

Cassidy agreed that reforms to the NCAA's name, image and likeness rules — a change that would allow players to make money while in college — would "100 percent" help Kentucky's cause in the pursuit of Wagner's commitment. Those changes are likely to happen, in some form or fashion, before Wagner wraps up his high school career two years from now.

In the meantime, he'll remain at the very top of Kentucky's recruiting board.

Kentucky busy with 2023 class

The new Rivals.com rankings came out Wednesday, one day after college coaches were permitted to contact recruits from the class of 2023 directly for the first time.

The annual June 15 communication date related to rising high school juniors is often a busy time, but it seemed even busier than usual with Kentucky's new coaching staff getting settled in clearly wanting to make a good impression on some of the star players from the 2023 class.

UK's coaches reached out to more than 20 players from that group Tuesday alone, and that list naturally included many of the top recruits in the new Rivals.com rankings.

Chicago forward JJ Taylor, who earned a scholarship offer from Kentucky on Tuesday, was previously unranked by Rivals but entered the national top 100 on Wednesday in the No. 4 overall spot, a testament to his stellar showing so far this spring. The 6-8 prospect also earned a scholarship offer from Duke on Tuesday.

Other UK targets in the new top 10 include Montverde (Fla.) Academy power forward Omaha Biliew (No. 2 overall), Arizona Compass Prep forward Mookie Cook (No. 3), California center Jalen Lewis (No. 6), Canadian wing Elijah Fisher (No. 7) and North Carolina point guard Robert Dillingham (No. 8).

Biliew is expected to visit UK this summer and will be teammates with Kentucky commitment Skyy Clark at Montverde this season. Cook, a Portland, Ore., native, will play for UK freshman TyTy Washington's alma mater this season.

The other 2023 recruits that UK contacted Tuesday or have been tied to the Cats recently include Colorado center Baye Fall (No. 12); New Jersey point guard Simeon Wilcher (No. 13); Montverde Academy forward Kwame Evans Jr. (No. 15); Texas small forward Tyler Smith (No. 18); Philadelphia small forward Justin Edwards (No. 21); Minnesota shooting guard Taison Chatman (No. 23); Cincinnati small forward Rayvon Griffith (No. 24); Texas small forward KJ Lewis (No. 25); Indiana point guard Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn (No. 28); New Jersey point guard Jayden Lemond (No. 29); Rhode Island big man Isaiah Miranda (No. 30); South Carolina power forward Brandon Gardner (No. 32); Texas shooting guard Ja'Kobe Walter (No. 46); Illinois point guard Jeremy Fears Jr. (No. 54); George point guard Stephon Castle (No. 55); Huntington, W.Va., shooting guard Maki Johnson (No. 67) and Indianapolis small forward Jalen Hooks (No. 73).

Reed Sheppard and Kentucky recruits

The class of 2023 is shaping up to be an especially talented one inside the state of Kentucky, with several players already earning national rankings and/or early scholarship offers from major Division I programs.

At least two of those players are expected to be serious UK targets, and both were included in the updated Rivals.com rankings.

North Laurel guard Reed Sheppard — the son of former UK stars Jeff Sheppard and Stacey Reed — ended up at No. 39 overall on the Rivals.com list, his highest ranking yet from one of the national services. Sheppard earned scholarship offers Tuesday from Louisville and Arizona, with those two programs joining Iowa and Texas A&M as major D-I schools that have pulled the trigger on an early offer. UK has also expressed interest in his recruitment.

Male High forward Kaleb Glenn is No. 66 on the new Rivals.com list. Glenn — a 6-7 prospect from Louisville — picked up scholarship offers from hometown U of L, Indiana, Arizona State, South Carolina and Wake Forest on Tuesday, and Kentucky's coaches reached out to show interest in his recruitment.

Louisville Christian point guard George Washington III — a Texas native — was also included in the new Rivals.com rankings at No. 83 overall. Washington visited Louisville this month and received a scholarship offer from the Cardinals on Tuesday.

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