Wagner models game after NBA elite

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2023

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During an interview with HoopsHype at the Nike Hoop Summit, Kentucky signee DJ Wagner said he has taken parts of what NBA stars Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry do best and tried to incorporate that into his game.

“They all got that killer mentality. Every time they step on the court, they try to play as hard as they can. I just love to compete. Anytime I step on the court, I’m just happy to compete, so I try to compete as much as I can,” Wagner, the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP, said in the interview.

He also confirmed again that even though he could eventually become a third-generation NBA player, he seldom talks about that possibility with his father, DeJuan, or grandfather, Milt.

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“They just guide me through every step of the process, so we didn’t really talk about that,” the future Wildcat said. “(We talk) A lot of different advice or tips on the game. Just coming up when I was young, going through all the levels because they play on a different level with certain things, expectations and stuff like this. They give me a lot of different types of reasoning, different tips of the game. The main thing they said was really just have fun.”

They have both also warned him about taking care of his body to prevent injuries to help him reach his goal of winning a national championship at Kentucky next season, where he wants coach John Calipari to push him to reach his maximum limit.

“Push me to be the best player that I can be. Just try and help me develop as much as I can. Just push us all to that national championship and hopefully win that in the end,” he told HoopsHype.

Wagner won the 3-Point Contest at the Iverson Classic last weekend making 16 of 25 shots from beyond the arc.

Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy believes Kentucky’s lack of NCAA Tournament success the last three years has been less about coaching philosophy and more about overall roster talent.

“His (Calipari’s) players have just not been as good. He started losing recruiting battles he had always won between 2009 and 2014,” DeCourcy said. “Now he’s winning those battles again. He’s out there swinging because he knows that is where it is all at. They just have to continue to build on the momentum they have with this current recruiting class.”

The final Rivals.com rankings have three UK signees—Aaron Bradshaw (2), Justin Edwards (3) and Wagner (6)—in the top six. Another signee, Rob Dillingham, was 14th and the fifth UK signee, Reed Sheppard, finished at 26.