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Kentucky's Four McDonald's All-Americans Talk Will to Win Together as Wildcats

Wildcats Today on FanNation logo Wildcats Today on FanNation 3/28/2023 Hunter Shelton
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On Tuesday night, four future Kentucky Wildcats will take part in the 2023 McDonald's All-American game in Houston. 

DJ Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw, Justin Edwards and Reed Sheppard increase coach John Calipari's total number of UK players tabbed to the illustrious event to a whopping 44, per UK Athletics. Burger Boys have been a staple in Lexington. Three — Daimion Collins, Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston — were on the 2022-23 Kentucky roster. 

The incoming four, plus 5-star point guard Rob Dillingham — who was ineligible to be a McDonald's All-American due to his affiliation with Overtime Elite — make up the seventh No. 1 recruiting class at UK in the Calipari era. 

On Monday, the four soon-to-be Wildcats spoke during the McDonald's All-American Media Day, talking Kentucky, friendships, pressure and more. Here is one major thing that each coveted recruit had to say on the day before the showcase inside the Toyota Center: 


"The main thing I know is that we all want to win. From having conversations with them and talking about next year, we all want to win. That's our main goal, just winning as much as we can."

The hype surrounding Wagner won't phase the hard-nosed Camden, N.J. product. He reflected on his first memory of Calipari when he was six or seven, taking Kentucky in and getting a picture with Anthony Davis. His father, Dajuan, played for Calipari when he was at Memphis. 

Wagner is a three-time New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, and No. 1 player in the entire 2023 class in the eyes of many. His high school teammate Bradshaw is along for the ride, making the process much easier. 

“I have known DJ his entire life and I’ve always wanted to coach him," Calipari said. Above all he is a competitor. He attacks the offensive end and is a versatile scorer, but he is equally as tough on defense. I love the spirit he’ll bring to practice every day, and I love that he wanted to be at Kentucky. He knows that to get the best of himself, he needs to be surrounded by other talented players who are going to match his competitive energy.”

The 5-star combo guard has excelled every step of the way, and there's no reason to believe that that'll stop when he arrives in Lexington.


"I'm not like the old-time big, i'm like, the new-time big." 

Music to the ears of some Kentucky fans. Standing at 7-feet, Bradshaw is going to bring some eye-popping qualities to the court just via his size alone. It helps that he can really shoot the ball, something that has been showcased more during his time in Houston. 

Calipari mentioned playing two 7-footers at the same time next season, and while some may vomit at that thought, if Bradshaw is one of those 7-footers on the floor, it's a whole lot different that having two towers out there solely for rim protection and rebounds. 

If you're seeking any McDonald's All-American content, you'll have seen nothing but superbly positive reports on Bradshaw's game. Not to mention, the guy has a bubbly personality that will make it easy for Big Blue Nation to fall in love with. 

“The most impactful trait we can have on the defensive end is the ability to block shots, and Aaron is elite at that," Calipari said. "He also has all of the tools that a versatile big in today’s game needs. Aaron’s motor continues to improve, he has great size and mobility. As a 7-footer, he can change the game on both ends of the court. He has a high ceiling and has only begun to scratch the surface of the kind of player he can be.”

He said Calipari told him he'll need to stretch the floor next season, playing some '4' and even the '3', so he'll need to get used to guarding faster players. Simply put, Bradshaw is a true star in the making.


"I think we can accomplish a lot. I think we can win a national championship."

There's zero reason for Edwards to think otherwise. He and four other highly touted high school players are all headed to the same school and have already built a bond with one-another even before arriving in Lexington.

He also touched on Calipari being able to go back to playing freshman more, the bread and butter of the Hall of Famer's UK tenure. It helps when you have consensus top-three players like Wagner and Edwards in the same recruiting class. 

Edwards led the charge for Imhotep Charter Institute in Philadelphia, taking his team to back-to-back 5A state titles as a junior and a senior. The small forward has an edge to his game that equals consistency on both sides of the basketball.

“Justin has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways," Calipari said. "He has terrific size, can play multiple positions and can score the ball at all three levels. I really like how active he is defensively and his desire to rebound every ball. He already has a great understanding that he can positively impact winning without scoring. That isn’t something you can teach, and I know Justin is going to demand the same of his teammates.”

Edwards has been touted as the funny guy by his fellow incoming Cats. He's also got "glue-guy" written all over him.


"I'm just gonna do what I can. I'm going to work as hard as I can. I'm going to do what I can to make the team successful and whether it's whatever the coaches want, I'm going to do."

Being a legacy recruit, dealing with added pressure and expectations, the moment never has been and never will be lost on Sheppard. He knows how the circus goes. 

He also won't come to campus next season and think he's going to be the A1 scoring option or best player on the floor every game. Playing a certain role is something the 2022 Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year is okay with. 

"I know playing for Kentucky has been a dream of Reed’s ever since he was a child. But, Reed isn’t here because he wanted to be here. He’s here because he’s a really good player who can help this team win," Calipari said. "He has terrific fundamentals and is the kind of player who can excel on or off the ball. I love his work ethic and the fact that he wants to be pushed on the biggest of stages to reach his full potential.”

The road will be a little more challenging for Sheppard, but it'll also be more rewarding. The North Laurel High School product went from dreaming of wearing Kentucky blue to guarding Bronny James in McDonald's All-American practices, just a few months away from his dream coming true. 

It also doesn't hurt that he's a pretty decent basketball player. He's the lone 4-star of the group, but he earned the McDonald's nod for a reason.

Inside Kentucky basketball's somber locker room after NCAA Tourney defeat HERE.

More on the potential roster overhaul in Lexington HERE.

More on the loss to Kansas State HERE.

Want the latest on national football and basketball recruiting, including Cats targets? Head over to SI All-American for the latest news, blogs, and updates about the nation's best prospects.

Sports Illustrated also offers insight, information and up to the minute details for gamblers. Check it out here.


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