Basketball Recruiting - Heat Check: Three recruiting predictions
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Heat Check: Three recruiting predictions

DJ Wagner
DJ Wagner (Matthew Hatfield, VirginiaPreps.com)

The 2022 grassroots season is nearing its conclusion and a number of recruitments seem to be drawing to a close at the same time. So this week, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Rob Cassidy chucks up a heat check of sorts in the form of three predictions related to the world of recruiting.

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DJ WAGNER WILL PICK KENTUCKY

The back-and-forth that has surrounded the DJ Wagner saga has been fun or frustrating, depending on your perspective. The ping-pong battle between Kentucky and Louisville seems to be reaching its conclusion, however, and it suddenly feels like the Wildcats are serving for the match.

It’s difficult to nail down the possible tipping point here. Was it NIL cash? Was it the Wagner’s family’s long-standing relationship with John Calipari? Was it the fact that Kentucky stands on more stable footing as a program than rebuilding Louisville under new leadership? Did the Cardinals ever actually lead or did people such as myself simply jump to conclusions because we’ve been conditioned to make certain assumptions when a college hires a member of a top-flight prospect’s family? It’s all possible.

One thing that seems safe to write, however, is that it became clear to me that Kentucky was the team to beat when Calipari flew himself and his impeccable hair to Spain to watch Wagner participate in the U17 World Championships this month. One of the most important skills in recruiting is knowing when you’re defeated and, traditionally, Calipari has been a master of that. It’s why it always seemed odd to me that people around the Wildcat program remained supremely confident when it came to Wagner’s recruitment, even when most voices hailed Louisville as the solid leader. Fact is, a trans-Atlantic flight simply wouldn’t have taken place if Calipari had any inkling that he was beaten.

Alas, here we are.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t bet much on Wagner’s decision. The story has been too chaotic for that. I only feel comfortable saying the Wildcats will win out because … well … nothing happens if I’m wrong.

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THE RACE FOR THE 2025 TOP SPOT WILL BE MORE CONTESTED THAN IT SEEMS

Cooper Flagg-mania has taken hold of the grassroots basketball world, and for good reason. The class-of-2025 forward has long been on the radar as a top-flight prospect, but the fact that he turned in one of his best performances on a massive stage (this month’s 17U world championships) has ignited the take machine and has some saying he’s the best prospect we’ve seen in years. A Twitter search of “Cooper Flagg best” even reveals some dude predicting that the high school sophomore-to-be will one day be the best player in the NBA.

The refrain is a familiar one. Eastern Michigan's Emoni Bates was the best player since LeBron James when he was Flagg’s age. Just a few years back, DJ Wagner was seen as a surefire wire-to-wire No. 1. Bates, of course, finished No. 5 in his own class, while Wagner currently sits at No. 3 in his.

That’s not to say Flagg isn’t a special prospect. He certainly is. The Maine-based star deserves flowers. He just finished dominating an international field of elite older prospects and showed off a well-rounded skill set that few prospects of his age have in the process, after all. Still, fellow 2025 heavyweights Cameron Boozer and Koa Peat aren’t going away. And, if we’re being particularly honest, at least one more top-spot contender we currently know little about will likely emerge later in the cycle – see Xavier Booker (2023) or Flory Bidunga (2024).

If I were ranking the 2025 class today, I’d slot Flagg No. 1, but hitting him with labels such as “best prospect regardless of class” or top prospect since ____” feels presumptuous at this juncture. It’s ok to avoid driving 100 MPH down the hot-take highway. Let’s learn from history.

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CLEMSON WILL LAND BODEN KAPKE

This prediction holds a bit less national relevance than the other two, but all guesses based on the whims of teenagers are, in some way, created equal I suppose.

With that I’ll log a FutureCast for Minnesota-based big man Boden Kapke to Clemson. Kapke has already been on campus for an unofficial visit and says he intends to return for an official. Meanwhile, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell was courtside watching the 6-foot-10 center turn in a double-double effort at the adidas 3SSB Championship last weekend.

The interest is clearly mutual and Kapke has been on record saying he’d like to make a decision before summer draws to a close. So while new offers could arrive and a number of Big Ten programs (including Minnesota and Iowa) could begin to press harder and change things down the stretch, I like the Tigers’ chances as things stand.

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