Kentucky Basketball Loses Former Top Prospect to John Calipari & Arkansas

D.J. Wagner and John Calipari

Getty John Calipari coaches D.J. Wagner during a March 21 NCAA tournament game.

Kentucky men’s basketball took a brutal hit when former Wildcat D.J. Wagner, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport, committed to playing next year for John Calipari at Arkansas.

Wagner, a former five-star prospect who was fifth in scoring on the Wildcats in 2023-24, is the “eighth addition to the roster since Arkansas Coach John Calipari was hired from Kentucky on April 10,” Whole Hog Sports wrote on May 26.

It was already known that Wagner was leaving Kentucky. He had been in the NCAA transfer portal for over a month, and CBS Sports reported that he had taken a recruiting visit to USC. It was also reported that Wagner had been considering both Oregon and Florida as potential next schools.

Prior to his freshman season at Kentucky, Wagner spent time as the country’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2023.

Expectations were high for Wagner’s freshman season. He averaged 9.9 points, 3.3 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 29 games (28 of which he started). In those games, Wagner averaged 25.8 minutes per game and shot 40.5% from the field.

It isn’t a shock that Wagner wanted to reunite with Calipari after leaving Kentucky. After all, Wagner is the son of Dajuan Wagner, a former No. 1 recruit who also played for Calipari in 2001-02, when Calipari coached at Memphis.

Both Calipari and Wagner’s final game for Kentucky was on March 21, when they played No. 14 seeded Oakland University in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky, who was a No. 3 seed, lost the game by a score of 80-76. Wagner played 17 scoreless minutes in the loss.

Details Behind John Calipari’s Arkansas Hire

Arkansas hired John Calipari to their basketball program’s 14th head coach on April 10, one day after he stepped down from his job at Kentucky.

Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas’ vice chancellor and athletic director, said Calipari’s reputation as an elite recruiter was a main reason Arkansas sought him.

“I talked to eight to 10 different coaches about this job,” Yurachek said, per AP. “Here’s what I want to be clear about: In spite of the reports, there was only one person that was offered this job.”

Calipari was announced as Arkansas’ coach in front of a packed crowd at Bud Walton Arena.

On April 9, Calipari posted an X video that was meant to be a message for Kentucky fans.

In the video, Calipari said that Kentucky “was my dream job.”

“Anybody in our profession looks at the University of Kentucky in basketball and said, ‘That is the bluest of blue,’” Calipari added in the video. “The last few weeks we’ve come to realize that this program probably needs to hear another voice that the university as a whole has to have another voice giving guidance about this program that they hear and the fans need to hear.”

Kentucky’s New Coach Is a Breath of Fresh Air

One day after Calipari’s Arkanasas hire was announced, ESPN’s Pete Thamel and Jeff Borzello reported that the Wildcats were finalizing a five-year deal with BYU head coach Mark Pope.

Soon after, numerous videos of Pope surfaced online. These various videos showcased Pope’s charming personality, and have helped convince the Kentucky faithful that Calipari’s replacement might be the necessary new voice that Calipari alluded to.