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A new entry to the red-hot college basketball transfer portal on Monday, DJ Wagner was one of the most decorated high school players in the national class of 2023. He was the first player to hold the No. 1 overall ranking and spent more time with that top spot than any other player in the class, despite finishing No. 6 overall in the final rankings.

Wagner was also the focus of arguably the class' most notorious recruiting battle. Wagner was considered a virtual lock for Kentucky, given his family's history with John Calipari, from the time he first debuted in high school. That all changed, though, when Louisville hired former Calipari lieutenant Kenny Payne, and he, in turn, added Wagner's grandfather, Milt Wagner, to his coaching staff.

Some 23 years earlier, it was Calipari who hired Milt at Memphis as a mechanism to secure a commitment from Milt's son, DaJuan Wagner. Now that same strategy was being used against Calipari to pull DJ, DaJuan's son, away from what seemed like an inevitable Kentucky commitment. Of course, the plan never quite came to fruition, as Calipari and Kentucky prevailed, landing a commitment from Wagner while he was also awarded a NIL deal directly from Nike.

What was clear to all those who had followed Calipari over the years was that Wagner was going to have every opportunity to be successful while playing at Kentucky. Thus, it was not a surprise to see him starting and playing more minutes than fellow freshman guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard, even as they clearly outplayed him.

As the season went on, though, and it became increasingly difficult to deny who was having the greater impact for the Wildcats, the dynamics began to shift. Sheppard was inserted into the starting lineup late in the season. Dillingham continued to come off the bench behind Wagner, but his minutes and usage both continued to rise.

Less than one month after the season came to an untimely end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari is the head coach at Arkansas, Dillingham has declared for the draft, and Sheppard is presumably set to follow given a projected spot in the lottery.

And Wagner? He's in the portal after averaging 9.9 points on 40.5% shooting from the floor, 29% shooting from three, 3.3 assists, and 1.9 rebounds per game.

Regardless of whether it's at Kentucky, Arkansas, or a new location altogether, what does DJ Wagner need to do to regain the form he showed as a youngster?

It's a multifaceted answer, layered with variables including his outside shooting, decision-making, and pace of play. Most importantly, he needs to get his confidence back.

When Wagner was a high school underclassman, he already had the burden of expectations. He was DaJuan Wagner's son, coming back to revitalize the high school program that his father had once made known nationally. And yet, he was measured and had a quiet confidence about the way he played and conducted himself.

Fast forward a couple of years, and whether it was the burden of his recruitment or other factors, by the time Wagner entered the summer before his senior year, there was a different tempo about his game. He was always someone who played in attack mode, but now, it was like he was stuck in first gear and didn't know how to change speeds. Whether it was with USA Basketball or even in the EYBL, he was less efficient than ever before, and thus not able to evolve into the point guard, or even lead guard, once hoped. His shooting had become a more frequent talking point and the hitch in his release may be even more pronounced. On top of all that, he was more visibly frustrated and emotional on the floor than he had ever been before.

Those characteristics largely persisted into his freshman season at Kentucky. He shot just 29% from behind the arc and made fewer 3-pointers on the year than virtually everyone else in the lineup. While he put up a better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, it came predominantly off the ball, as the primary playmaking responsibilities often went to Dillingham and Sheppard, especially as the season went on. He became hesitant to shoot and yet overeager to attack, all at the same time.

The numbers bore this out as well, as he ranked in just the 21st percentile as a spot-up shooter per Synergy Sports, and the 43rd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

So, yes, Wagner needs to shoot the ball more consistently from the three-point line. He needs to learn to slow down and pick his spots so that when he does utilize his speed and burst to attack, he can better weaponize a change of pace. He may never be a true point guard, but if he can get to a point where he can reliably handle more on-ball reps, that would help to rehabilitate his stock as well.

But confidence, and by extension rhythm, are key to just about all of that. In short, he needs to get his swag back and, in so doing, let the game come to him just a little bit more.

Wagner may even benefit from more latitude in the mid-range area, as he attempted just 16 shots in that range all season long, per Pivot Analysis. Whereas in high school, his pull-ups and floaters were a big part of his scoring arsenal when he was playing strictly on instinct, which typically correlated to the most confident version of himself.

If he can do those things while continuing to assert himself as an impactful defender and elite competitor who can lift the energy level and will to win of those around him, something he was often credited for in high school, there is still a path for Wagner to have the impact that many expected in college basketball and ultimately beyond.

But that may be the final key. If it was the pressure of his status or the associated expectations that finally started to catch up to him, maybe the most important thing he can do for his career is to take it one step at a time. In other words, the best way to help his long-term NBA stock may be to forget about the NBA for now and be the best college player he can be. The truth is that's what he did for most of his high school career. There were always questions about how his physical tools and high-volume approach would ultimately translate to the highest levels, but he was so consistently productive and impactful, it was hard to think he wouldn't find a way to keep doing it. That's exactly who he needs to be again. The player who focused entirely on where he is right now and hopefully gets his confidence back in the process.

The fact that he's willing to put his name in the portal and explore getting it right at the college level before sticking to an outdated one-and-done plan is a great indication that he may be willing to do just that.