It feels like we’ve seen this movie before. And so many sequels lately. Since 2015, if you’re a Kentucky fan beginning to get excited about the prospect of signing the No. 1-ranked high school recruit, brace yourself for an epic letdown. There was Skal Labissiere, who at least played a season for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t pretty. Then James Wiseman, a mortal lock to pick UK until Memphis hired his high school coach, Penny Hardaway. Then Cade Cunningham, who committed during a visit to Lexington but ultimately signed with Oklahoma State, which hired his brother, Cannen, as an assistant coach. Then there’s the ongoing saga of Shaedon Sharpe, a top recruit who actually made it to campus but might not stick around long enough to play for Kentucky.

So when we tell you that the story of DJ Wagner was supposed to be a tale about inevitability, maybe it still is. Just another kind of inevitability. The inevitability of disappointment, perhaps.

A year ago, when Milt Wagner first spoke to The Athletic about his grandson, DJ, the No. 1 prospect in the 2023 class, Milt’s college teammate and close friend Kenny Payne was still an assistant with the New York Knicks. At the time, Payne had been blown off by their alma mater, Louisville, as a serious head-coaching candidate. Meanwhile, just up the road at Kentucky, there was John Calipari, who is like family to the Wagners.

Calipari had hired Milt to his Memphis staff in 2000, helped him finally earn a college degree and then signed his son, Dajuan, the Naismith high school player of the year, in 2001. Calipari had advised — practically commanded, really — Dajuan to leave college after just one year, which turned out to be the only fortunate break of Wagner’s injury- and illness-marred professional career. Calipari also signed Lance Ware, DJ Wagner’s teammate at Camden (N.J.) High, where Milt and Dajuan also starred. Calipari had taken DJ’s step-brother, Kareem Watkins, as a walk-on. Few recruitments had ever seemed so inevitable as this.

Of course, DJ Wagner would eventually play for Calipari in Lexington.

“People who know Cal’s relationship with me and my son, they’ve been saying that for a long time,” Milt said all those months ago. He tried unsuccessfully to get the next part out without laughing. He insisted between chuckles, “But we don’t know where he’s going.”

The thing is, we did know. As recently as a month ago, DJ Wagner was headed to Kentucky. Period. Without a doubt. Listen to the way Milt talked about what Calipari means to their family:

“He had my son ready to go to the league after one year,” Milt said. “We were saying two years, but after that first year, Cal had him playing so well, on top of his game, and it’s because of how Cal pushed him. Because Cal ain’t gonna sugarcoat you, now. He ain’t gonna treat you like this All-American. He’s gonna make you earn everything, and I think that’s what separates these kids. My son had to take everything he got. Cal tells you that when you come in: I’m not promising you no points, no minutes, nothing. And if you’re any kind of player, you take that challenge. Some kids want you to make promises, but we don’t believe in that. If somebody gives you something, you’re not going to work hard to keep it. Cal made my son work for everything he got, and he probably didn’t like it at first. But by the end, these kids see: He pushes you to be great, and if you want to be great, you take what he’s giving you.”

Dajuan Wagner, who famously scored 100 points in a high school game and averaged 42.5 points as a senior at Camden, was Calipari’s first big star at Memphis. He broke the single-season school scoring record, averaged 21.2 points as a freshman and led the Tigers to an NIT championship. If he came back to school, Memphis was going to be loaded the next season. But Calipari made a fateful decision.

“Cal did his homework, got all his information from the NBA, found out Dajuan was going to go in the top 10 and he pretty much said, ‘Hey, man, you need to go,’” Milt remembers. “My son wanted to come back. People don’t understand, my son absolutely wanted to come back to school. He was just getting that bond with his brothers there, and we were gonna have a helluva team that next year. But Cal said, ‘Nah, you can’t come back, man. I’m tearing up your scholarship.’ That was a true story. And the thing about it: You look back, and if he hadn’t done that, things would’ve happened while he was still in college and he might not have been drafted highly. We’ll always respect Cal for that. Dajuan loves Cal for that.”