With the backing of his coaches, DJ Wagner is going to keep shooting

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan03/01/24


Coming into Kentucky’s game against Mississippi State on Tuesday, freshman DJ Wagner was in a bit of a shooting slump. UK’s starting point guard had missed 15 consecutive three-pointers over a six-game span. During that time, he shot just 19.4 percent overall from the floor. Nothing was falling for the former five-star recruit.

To say he was struggling on offense would be a bit of an understatement. But keep in mind that Wagner had recently reaggravated the same ankle injury he initially suffered in late November against Miami (FL). He went 0-2 from deep against Arkansas on Jan. 27 then sat out three straight games to heal his ankle some more. But even when he returned on Feb. 10 against Gonzaga, the same lift and burst of energy he once had wasn’t all the way back — not yet, at least. He missed another 13 triples in a row.

But Wagner is beginning to round back into form. After playing 35 minutes against Arkansas over a month ago, right before getting sidelined, he didn’t see more than 25 minutes, score in double-figures, or hit a three-pointer since making his return.

All of that changed against Mississippi State earlier this week. Wagner saw 28 minutes of action, reached 10 points, and drilled two of his four shots from deep. He finished with a 3-5 overall shooting mark in addition to four assists and a steal. His pass to Reed Sheppard on the final possession led to Sheppard hitting the game-winner.

Wagner was never worried about his lack of production though. He says that’s just how the game of basketball goes sometimes. However, he admits it sure was nice to see some shots fall in Starkville.

“It felt good just to finally see the ball go in the basket but I feel like that just comes with the game,” Wagner said during Friday’s press conference. “Sometimes it just ain’t gonna go your way and you gotta stay confident, most importantly, and I feel like my teammates and my coaches been helping me a lot.

“Just stay confident no matter what. Telling me to shoot it no matter how many times I miss. If I’m open, just shoot the ball. Because that’s the game of basketball, you not gonna make every shot. You not gonna miss every shot. And last game, good thing I was able to make a couple.”

Wagner wasn’t hunting for his shots against the Bulldogs either. He let the flow of the game come to him. It quickly paid off too. His first shot of the night was a wide-open three-pointer just 95 seconds in — nothing but net.

It took a few games, but Wagner is feeling like himself again. The ankle injury popping back up clearly bothered him. But with constant treatment and recovery, he doesn’t feel the need to baby it anymore. Confidence in his healthy ankle (and confidence from those around him) is leading to confidence in his own game.

“I don’t got nothing to worry about and I can just play my game on it,” Wagner said of ankle. “My trainers and everybody been telling me, I’m good, I can go. That’s been giving me confidence.

“As long as I’m able to play I’m happy.”

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