Kentucky’s latest crop of talented frosh ready to make an impact

Published 3:39 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

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Kentucky fans are already excited about the 2023-24 basketball season because of the No. 1 rated recruiting class that John Calipari is bringing to the Bluegrass. However, the incoming players seem just as excited as the fans and maybe even more optimistic.

DJ Wagner, Justin Edwards, Aaron Bradshaw and Reed Sheppard are four signees who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game last week. The fifth signee, guard Rob Dillingham, is a top-10 player in the 2023 recruiting class.

Wagner pointed out at the McDonald’s All-American Games Media Day that the UK signees have games that mesh together well.

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“Each player has great things about their games that we could all use and match and play together (with) each other,” Wagner said. “The main thing I know is that we all want to win.

“Just from having conversations with them and talking about next year, we all just want to win. That’s our main goal. Just winning as much as we can.”

Edwards, considered the No. 1 player in the recruiting class by most, didn’t temper his expectations.

“I think we can accomplish a lot. I think we can win a national championship and Cal can go back to playing a lot of freshmen,” Edwards said

No player understands the potential pressure on UK players next year more than Sheppard. His father, Jeff, played on national championship teams in 1996 and 1998 at Kentucky. He’s been around Kentucky basketball all his life and is a fan favorite in the Bluegrass.

“Anyone knows it’s going to be hard to play at Kentucky. They’re one of the greatest college basketball programs in history,” Reed Sheppard said. “Going to Kentucky you know you’re going to have a lot of pressure knowing they’ve struggled a little bit the past few postseasons and the fans are getting a little impatient.

“It is kind of a lot of pressure , but it’s something you work for. It’s something you look forward to, playing with great players and great coaches to make a run (at a national title).”

Wagner also understands pressure. His grandfather played on a national championship team at Louisville. His father played for Calipari at Memphis. The incoming Wildcat has been a national phenomenon for years.

Wagner is thankful he has talented players coming to UK with him.

“I feel like we’re all confident in each other and the way to prepare for that is to stay in the gym and keep working hard every day,” Wagner said. “We all feel like we can rely on each other in games. We’re all excited.”

Bradshaw certainly seems excited and eager to get to Kentucky where he says he will be a “new big” who can play outside as well as inside.

“I’m a workhorse. I love being in the gym and I’m just an energetic, fun type of guy,” Bradshaw said. “I feel like I fit the perfect (mold) of a Kentucky freshman. While Dillingham did not get to show off his skills in the McDonald’s game, he obviously has a believer in Paul Biancardi, ESPN’s national recruiting director.

“He may be the best pure bucket in the class,” Biancardi said.

Biancardi considers him a special “shot-maker and space creator” either in transition or in a set offense.

“He plays with his head up and eyes wide open. His vision and anticipation skills on defense make him a very good off-ball defender, too,” Biancardi said.