Once upon a time, D.J. Wagner was ranked as the No. 1 overall player in the 2023 recruiting cycle by 247Sports. The Kentucky star freshman dropped five spots in the final class rankings, but his commitment to the program solidified the Wildcats No. 1 overall recruiting class and gave the program some serious buzz heading into the 2023-24 season
After some struggles to start his college career, Wagner has shown flashes of why he was once considered the best player in his class. Wagner put together two strong performances against Saint Joseph's and Marshall to help the Wildcats bounce back from an early season loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic.
Wagner ranked as the third-best player in Kentucky's recruiting class behind wing Justin Edwards and big man Aaron Bradshaw. Edwards, who is considered to be a contender for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, hasn't played true to the potential he showed over the summer while playing in Kentucky's GLOBL Jam games in Canada. As for Bradshaw, he has yet to appear in a game this season due to a foot injury suffered before the start of the season.
Let's jump into our rankings and get to our CBS Sports/USBWA Freshman of the Week for the the 2023-24 college basketball season
Freshman of the Week: D.J. Wagner, Kentucky
Welcome back to the Frosh Watch, our weekly ranking of the five most impressive freshmen in college basketball. CBS Sports has once again teamed up with the United States Basketball Writers Association and its Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award to present this every-Tuesday feature. Each week we'll start by announcing the national Freshman of the Week honoree. The cycle for FOTW runs Tuesday-Monday.
Wagner had the best performance of his Kentucky career when his team needed him the most. In the overtime win over Saint Joseph's, Wagner finished with 22 points, six assists and three rebounds in 36 minutes. He followed it up by scoring 28 points and dishing out five assists in only 26 minutes in a blowout win over Marshall days later. The latter is the only performance that officially counts for our Tuesday-Monday cycle, but it's clear he's showing why he was once considered the best player in his respective class. Not only did Wagner score a career-high in points, but he did so in very efficient fashion by shooting 10-of-14 from the floor and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. The bottom line: Kentucky will go as far as its star freshmen class takes them.
Let's jump into this week's rankings. But first, here's a look back at the previous rankings thus far this season and the winner of each Freshman of the Week.
Frosh Watch: Top five freshman rankings
1. Isaiah Collier, USC
Stats: 18.2 PPG | 4.8 APG | 52.9% FG
Despite coming off his worst performance of the season in a 72-70 loss to Oklahoma, Collier still holds firm as the top player in his class. Collier scored a season-low 10 points against Oklahoma and the Trojans suffered their second loss in the young season. Turnovers continue to be an issue for the young guard, as he is averaging 5.3 per contest. That number will have to go down significantly if he wants to maintain his top spot, but for now, he remains No. 1.
2. Ja'Kobe Walter, Baylor
Stats: 17.8 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 46.9% FG
Walter had a strong performance in the win over Oregon State and scored 24 points on an efficient 7-of-13 from the floor. The following game against Florida, Walter played a majority of the game in foul trouble and logged a season-low 16 minutes. Water is firmly in the conversion for the best freshman in the country three weeks into the season and the Bears will need him to maintain a strong start with games against Michigan State and Duke on the horizon.
3. Rob Dillingham, Kentucky
Stats: 16.0 PPG | 5.2 APG | 4.3 RPG
Dillingham remains No. 3 on the list after two strong games against Saint Joseph's and Marshall. In those games, Dillingham averaged 14.5 points, seven assists and five rebounds. You can certainly make the case that Wagner deserves to be on this list, but Dillingham has still been the most consistent freshman on the Wildcats roster through the first three weeks of the season. That can certainly change once conference play comes around, but for now, Dillingham stays in the rankings.
4. Stephon Castle, UConn
Stats: 14.5 PPG | 6.5 RPG | 3.5 APG | 66.7% FG
Look, you can argue that Castle shouldn't be on this list because the sample size is too small. He has only played in two games this season and hasn't appeared since Nov. 11 because of a knee injury. However, when he was on the floor, he was easily a top-five freshman in his class. UConn (in his absence) still looks like a well oiled machine, but having him back in in the fold just raises an already strong floor this Huskies team has.
5. Malik Mack, Harvard
Stats: 21.1 PPG | 5.1 APG | 3.9 RPG
Welcome to the rankings, Malik Mack. The only new face to the Frosh Watch rankings is a breakout player from the 2023 recruiting cycle. Mack ranked as the No. 50 point guard by 247Sports and was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. The 6-foot-1 guard is currently the highest-scoring freshman in the country and is averaging 21.1 points per game. Pitt's Carlton Carrington previously occupied this spot, but the strong start by Mack makes him hard to leave off the rankings. Mack is coming off a 27-point showing against Indiana and scored a season-high 32 points in a win over Massachusetts earlier this month.