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Kentucky Basketball Expressing Interest in Top-Rated In-State Prospect

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Instagram/Jasper Johnson

Since arriving at Kentucky, John Calipari has thrived at recruiting the best players in the country. At times, that has come at the expense of not recruiting in-state prospects, which has frustrated many fans. Let’s be honest, Kentucky doesn’t produce many top-25 prospects.

In fact, dating back to 2011 – which is the latest that Kentucky state rankings go back on 247Sports – there have only been four top-50 prospects from the state. Neither Derek Willis nor Dominique Hawkins – two of the most prominent in-state players of the Cal Era – are part of that list.

With that said, there are some high-level prospects from Kentucky in the 2023 class and beyond.

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Calipari has already secured a commitment from Reed Sheppard – Kentucky’s highest-rated in-state commitment in the modern recruiting era – in the 2023 class and has offered Lyon County’s Travis Perry in 2024, but there is another prospect to keep an eye on.

Meet Jasper Johnson, a 6-foot-2 combo guard from Versailles, KY who is ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect and the top in-state prospect in the 2025 class (247Sports).

Like his father, Dennis Johnson, who was an All-SEC defensive end for Kentucky, Jasper is a multi-sport star athlete for Woodford County, playing football as a quarterback and defensive back in addition to basketball.

After catching the eye of John Calipari and the rest of the staff, it appears that his future lies with basketball.

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After an impressive summer Eric Bossi, national basketball director for 247Sports, had some high praise for the Kentucky native.

“A thin guard from Kentucky, Johnson showed flashes of turning into a pretty high-level player long term. He can set himself up off the dribble, take and make deep jumpers and he’s sneaky explosive when getting to the rim,” Bossi wrote.

“His body is thin right now, but he’s got all kinds of length and surely some growing left to do. He’s already 6-foot-2 or so but with a few more inches of height and added strength he could emerge as a player to reckon with in his class.”

Johnson admittedly grew up a Kentucky fan but has told 247Sports, “It wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t go there. I will have to make the best decision for me, no matter where it’s at.”

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Just a sophomore, Johnson has not yet entered the heaving recruiting period but he has already received offers from Alabama and Ohio State in addition to receiving interest from the likes of Louisville, Memphis, and Texas Tech.

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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BB Recruiting

Reed Sheppard on Why He Chose Kentucky, “As a little boy from Kentucky, it’s always been a dream to play for UK”

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UK Athletics

The son of Kentucky basketball legends Jeff and Stacey (Reed) Sheppard, Reed Sheppard has had a connection to Kentucky basketball since birth and nearly a year ago, he made the decision to follow in his parent’s large footsteps and commit to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Why? The answer is simple.

Around the Bluegrass State, it is the dream of many children to play basketball for the University of Kentucky, and the same can be said for the in-state legacy commit.

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“As a little boy from Kentucky, it’s always been a dream of mine to play at UK,” Sheppard said.

With that said, Reed has the opportunity to play for Kentucky because he has earned it.

Currently ranked 29th according to 247Sports composite, Sheppard is the highest-ranked recruit from the State of Kentucky since former Louisville player Chane Behanan (Bowling Green, KY). Furthermore, he is the highest-ranked recruit from the state of Kentucky to play for the Wildcats since Rex Chapman.

Kentucky head coach, John Calipari has even echoed the same sentiment.

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“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 in a statement on Monday.

In Sheppard’s first season, Kentucky will have the talent to win a national title, and he has the opportunity to be a big piece of the team. Can you imagine that storyline?

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John Calipari Goes Into Detail for Each Player In Historic Recruiting Class

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UK Athletics

In recent seasons, John Calipari hasn’t been recruiting – at least high school prospects – at his typical level. Pair this with the worst record in program history and then losing to Saint Peter’s in back-to-back seasons, many have questioned if Cal still has ‘it’.

If college basketball needed an answer, Calipari has given one with the 2023 recruiting class, which may be the best of his career.

On Monday afternoon, Kentucky added their Crown Jewel of the 2023 class, No. 1 prospect DJ Wagner, who will join his high school teammate Aaron Bradshaw (No. 6), and fellow 2023 five-star recruits Justin Edwards (No. 2), Robert Dillingham (No. 9), and Reed Sheppard (No. 29).

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Together, they form the No. 1 overall class for 2023, with four prospects ranked in the top 10.

Following Wagner’s commitment, Calipari released a statement where he talked about each of his star recruits for next season. Let’s see what he had to say.

Note: Rankings based off 247Sports.

DJ Wagner (No. 1 overall, No. 1 CG)

“I have known D.J. his entire life and I’ve always wanted to coach him. 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.”

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Justin Edwards (No. 2 overall, No. 1 SF)

“Justin has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways. 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.”

Aaron Bradshaw (No. 6 overall, No. 2 C)

“The most impactful trait we can have on the defensive end is the ability to block shots, and Aaron is elite at that. 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.”

Robert Dillingham (No. 9 overall, No. 2 PG)

“Our best teams have had really good guards and this class has that. Rob has the ability to make good decisions, can create for others or get his own shot. He can make contested layups, which opens the court for him offensively. He is an extremely efficient scorer, but I’m excited about the fact that Rob wants to be pushed by other really good guards on our roster and continue to develop his versatility by playing with or without the ball in his hands.”

Reed Sheppard (No. 29 overall, No. 9 CG)

“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. 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.”

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While the 2023 class is loaded with talent and will be exciting to watch, we are still away from seeing together on the court.

However, with this roster and next season’s roster, John Calipari has the opportunity to send a big-time message.

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DJ Wagner on Why He Chose Kentucky, “Calipari Said He Would Be With Me Until the Wheels Fall Off Either Way”

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UK Athletics

DJ Wagner, the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class and the Wildcat’s most recent signee, was destined to play for John Calipari from a young age.

This is due to the connection between his father Dajuan Wagner, and Calipari, who Dajuan has said multiple times that he owes his career to.

Dajuan played for Calipari at Memphis, who refused to let him come back for a sophomore season, making him one of the first one-and-done players in college basketball. Fortunately, this was the right decision, because after being drafted sixth in the 2002 NBA Draft, Dajuan’s career was derailed by injuries.

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This left Dajuan with a lasting impression of Calipari, as he pushed him to do what was best for himself and his family.

Now, two decades later, Calipari is set to do the same for DJ Wagner, and that is what sold the top-ranked guard on Kentucky.

“Coach John Calipari was always straightforward and honest with me. He said he would be with me until the wheels fall off the car either way. And that meant so much to me,” Wagner said in his ESPN announcement.

Now that he is a Wildcat, Wagner knows that they will have the talent to compete for a national title. “I’m coming there to win. Winning comes first with me and I want to help Kentucky win as much as possible.”

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