Insider Gets Blunt about Fate of DJ Wagner and Razorbacks

DJ Wagner transfer portal

Given the amount of digital ink that has been spilled on behalf of DJ Wagner, he’d better be pretty awesome no matter where he lands.

Yes, the rising sophomore is good and could indeed be very good assuming he’ll be 100% healthy following his nagging ankle injury. Averaging 10 points and nearly three and a half assists as a sometimes hobbled true freshman for Kentucky isn’t chump change, even if it isn’t near the same standard set by the lottery picks who so regularly star there.

The 6’4″ Wagner has only added to his allure by remaining in the transfer portal these last few weeks. He’s still holding out on announcing this next college despite taking visits to USC and Arkansas. This time last week, it was assumed he was a lock to join the Arkansas basketball program given John Calipari’s indirect reference to him on the statewide glad-handing circuit.

The last few days have seen significant doubt creep in, however, as almost everything has remained crickets on the DJ Wagner front. Travis Branham, the 247Sports analyst and transfer portal reporter, went so far to withdraw his 13-day-old crystal ball prediction on the New Jersey native going to Arkansas:

There was some buzz around the possibility that Wagner would take a visit to the Gators, but that didn’t happen and it appears some Florida fans aren’t excited about the prospect of him coming anyway.

DJ Wagner Wants to Enjoy His Sweet Time

Some insight from Wagner’s inner circle, however, is filtering in.

On3’s Joe Tipton recently went went on ESPN Arkansas’s “Hit That Line” and said that he’s been told by people around DJ Wagner that he never enjoyed the full recruiting experience in high school despite being a 5-star. Through most of his high school, only two schools – Kentucky and Louisville – were serious contenders.

This time around, as Tipton says below, Wagner wants to go through the entire process and take “three of four visits” to different schools.

Tipton adds he can see it going either way in terms of Wagner rejoining John Calipari out of the transfer portal or not, although he does feel the familiarity should play in Arkansas’ favor in this case. Tyler Ulis’ arrival from the Wildcats should also help, especially given his familiarity with where Wagner needs to improve to become more of a true point guard.

College basketball analyst Aaron Torres, meanwhile, has delivered perhaps the most powerful new reason as to why Wagner should still end up at Arkansas despite all this excessive tarrying.

“I’ll be blunt – he doesn’t really have anywhere else to go,” Torres said on a recent episode of his podcast. First off, Wagner never declared for the NBA Draft so that’s off the table. Torres then laid out that other schools where it would make sense for Wagner to go have essentially already locked the doors and left him out in the cold by filling in what would have been his roster spot.

Transfer Portal Options Limited

He starts be saying a return to Kentucky is out of the question because of the arrival of guards Lamont Butler and Kerr Kriisa. Here are other schools who might have been on the radar but now, as Torres sees it, no longer make sense:

St. John’s: No-go because of Kadary Richmond

Tennessee: Zikai Ziglar as the point guard position on lock-down

USC: Desmond Claude should dominate the ball after transferring from Xavier

Florida: The primary ball-handling may already belong to arrival of Alijah Martin, Razorback Johnell Davis’ former teammate at Florida Atlantic

Speaking of Davis, Torres believes he would function much more effectively for Arkansas as a shooting guard who didn’t need to worry about setting the table for his teammates. That would also let Johnuel “Boogie” Fland mature at his own pace as a true freshman in the SEC instead of being throw into the fire. Allowing Fland to start the year without as much pressure and perhaps even come off the bench would be a luxury while providing someone to help guide Fland along a path that is projected to end in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Another concern may be how Wagner would feel if Fland were to end up showing out and establish himself as the starting point. Here, Wagner already has a track record of being able to shift to a more complementary role off the bench given the way fellow freshmen Reed Shepherd and Rob Dillingham essentially upstaged him last season at Kentucky during his time recording from the injury.

“He comes back, Rob Dillingham’s blowing up,” Torres recalls. “Reed Sheppard’s blowing up. He’s not healthy. And so it was this weird dynamic where other guys are blowing up. His season isn’t going to plan, and I give him credit. He’s stuck with the course. He was a good teammate.”

We can presume that with another year of experience and wisdom he would remain such a teammate.

Wagner as “Missing Piece” for Arkansas Basketball?

Wagner slotting in as the floor general would also mean talented freshmen Karter Knox and Billy Richmond can focus playing on the wing instead of needing to potentially step into the back-court to chip in here and there. Torres believes it’s most likely to see Wagner commit to Arkansas over Memorial Day, although for the last three weeks it has seemed like the most likely commitment window is always the upcoming weekend.

“You get DJ Wagner, all the other pieces at Arkansas start to come together,” Torres adds, going so far as to call the 19-year-old a “kind of a missing piece” for the Hogs.

Make no mistake: Davis, Jonas Aidoo and Adou Thiero are more important keys to unlocking Arkansas’ full potential in 2024-25, but getting Wagner would add some margin for error in the backcourt that the team currently doesn’t have. Very few true freshmen are able to step in and kill it at point guard for Arkansas right off the bat, so it would be a lot to burden Fland with such an expectation. (Even the best example for such a freshman floor leader, Kareem Reid, sat out a season before suiting up.)

Although it’s in the realm of possibility given he was once the nation’s No. 1 rated recruit, few expect DJ Wagner next season to emerge as an All-American. Perhaps this coy combo guard’s greatest accomplishment in college so far is that he’s been able to dominate headlines this off-season as if already were one.

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Don’t let Torres’ “There’s nothing really to say about DJ Wagner” statement below fool you.

He absolutely has a lot to say. It starts at the 44:45 mark:

See more on DJ Wagner and other transfer portal possibilities here:

At the 8:00 mark below, Kevin McPherson explains why he thinks Wagner is still a private commit to Arkansas:

More on DJ Wagner and Arkansas basketball from BoAS here:

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