Louisville greats show up for DJ Wagner. And more from the first day of Nike EYBL action.

·5 min read
Michael Clubb/mclubb@herald-leader.com

In his first game in Louisville for this weekend’s stop on the Nike circuit, major Kentucky basketball recruiting target DJ Wagner scored 29 points and led his New Jersey Scholars squad to a victory in the Saturday opener.

And there were plenty of local legends at courtside.

As Wagner went off in front of the biggest crowd of the session, U of L legends like Pervis Ellison, Darrell Griffith and Milt Wagner, the star recruit’s grandfather, looked on from behind the Scholars bench.

Wagner, of course, is in the middle of a major recruiting battle between Kentucky and Louisville, with family ties to both rival programs. Wagner’s father, Dajuan Wagner, who was also in attendance Saturday, was a star player for John Calipari at the beginning of his Memphis tenure and has remained close to the Kentucky coach. Wagner’s stepbrother, Kareem Watkins, is also a walk-on for UK’s basketball program. While Wagner’s grandfather, Milt Wagner, is one of Louisville’s greatest players and rejoined the U of L program a few days ago in a support staff role under new head coach Kenny Payne.

College coaches are not permitted to attend this weekend’s games, since the session does not fall under one of the NCAA’s approved evaluation periods. Milt Wagner, however, is allowed to watch in person since DJ is a family member. The younger Wagner chatted briefly with Griffith after Saturday’s opener, stopping several times to pose for photos with fans dressed in Louisville gear on his way to the team bus. There were also several other former Louisville players — and even a few current Cardinals — at Saturday’s Nike opener.

Ellison is the team director of the New Jersey Scholars and visited with Milt Wagner and others during the game.

Going into the weekend, the last 11 picks across the 247Sports Crystal Ball, Rivals.com and On3.com prediction sites have all been in favor of Louisville for Wagner, who is the No. 2 recruit in the new 247Sports rankings. Before U of L hired Payne, it was Kentucky that was seen as the major favorite in Wagner’s recruitment.

Wagner vs. Bronny

The final slate of games on the Saturday schedule featured a matchup between DJ Wagner and fellow 2023 recruit Bronny James, the son of LeBron James.

Wagner scored 14 points to go with four assists — and made three three-pointers —in a 67-57 victory. James, who 247Sports ranks as the No. 54 player in the 2023 class, struggled mightily on offense, going 2-for-14 from the field and finishing with six points, three rebounds and four assists. Not much is known about his recruitment, and it’s still possible that James could go the pro route straight out of high school.

It was Aaron Bradshaw, another major Kentucky target, who stole the show in the night game. The 7-footer had 21 points and 11 rebounds, going 8-for-11 from the field. Bradshaw has a shot to be the No. 1 overall center in the 2023 class, and UK extended a scholarship offer last month. He plays on the same high school and Nike league teams as Wagner.

Justin Edwards update

Earlier in the week, 247Sports ranked Justin Edwards — a 6-7 wing from Philadelphia — as the No. 3 overall player in the 2023 class. On Saturday morning, he went for 13 points and five rebounds to help lead Team Final to a victory in its weekend opener.

Afterward, Edwards said he’s in regular contact with John Calipari and top Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, who have told him they want to bring him to Lexington and make him one of the greatest players to come through UK.

“(Calipari) is a good guy, and they have a historical program,” Edwards said. “They get the job done.”

Tennessee is looking like UK’s top competition for Edwards — and the Vols are considered the slight favorites, at this point, by many in recruiting circles — and the star recruit took an official visit to Knoxville earlier this year.

“When I went down there on my visit I felt welcomed,” he said. “The team welcomed me like I already went there. I’m a big person on family atmosphere.”

Edwards said he has no timetable for a college commitment and is not planning any visits in June.

Coming soon?

Five-star guard Robert Dillingham scored 27 points in a blowout victory in his first game of the weekend Saturday afternoon.

Dillingham — a 6-2 guard from North Carolina — declined interview requests afterward and said that he would have an announcement of some sort in the next few weeks. Later in the day, it was revealed that Dillingham would be announcing his college decision June 24. That could bring very good news for Kentucky, which has been picking up buzz in his recruitment over the past few days and landed a Crystal Ball prediction for Dillingham earlier in the week.

According to the 247Sports composite rankings, Dillingham is the No. 8 overall player in the 2023 class.

Recruiting Buzelis

Five-star wing Matas Buzelis didn’t shed much light on his recruitment Saturday, but he did confirm that Kentucky commitment Reed Sheppard — the Cats’ only pledge so far for the 2023 class — has been in regular contact and is trying to get him to team up with the Wildcats in college.

“He’s just telling me: ‘You’d fit perfectly in the system,’” Buzelis said.

Buzelis is the No. 7 overall player in the new 247Sports rankings, and he’s taken official visits to Kentucky, Florida State and Wake Forest so far. Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona and UCLA are among the many other programs that have extended scholarship offers, though Buzelis said he doesn’t have any other recruiting trips planned at this time. He also doesn’t have a set timetable for his college commitment but did say he thinks college would be a better fit for him than the professional route straight out of high school.

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