Louisville basketball target Mackenzie Mgbako praises Coach Wagner, signs NIL deal, more

PORTLAND, OREGON - APRIL 08: MacKenzie Mgbako #6 of World Team warms up before the game between USA Team and World Team during the Nike Hoop Summit at Moda Center on April 08, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OREGON - APRIL 08: MacKenzie Mgbako #6 of World Team warms up before the game between USA Team and World Team during the Nike Hoop Summit at Moda Center on April 08, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Once 2023 five-star forward Mackenzie Mgbako requested a release from his National Letter of Intent with Duke University, it was anticipated that nearly every Division I program grabbed their phone to reach out to the highly-coveted Top 10 prospect in the nation.

Mackenzie Mgbako is the No. 3 overall player in the state of New Jersey. He currently sits behind his two AAU teammates, DJ Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw, who are both University of Kentucky commits. Once it was announced that he was back on the market, speculation began to swirl connecting Mgbako to Kentucky, but that does seem like it’s going to happen.

However, Kentucky’s arch-rival, the University of Louisville has reached out to him, per Rob Cassidy, and has been linked to the Cardinals by multiple media members. And his connections to the Louisville basketball program run deep through the ties on his AAU team. Former Louisville basketball star Pervis Ellison is the Program Director, while Milt Wagner’s son, Dajuan Wagner, is the Player Development and Program Director.

In an interview with Pro Insight in 2022, Mackenzie Mgbako praises Coach Wagner for helping him develop into a better basketball player.

Pro Insight asked him“How has playing for the Scholars helped you on and off the court?”

"To which Mgbako replied: “I’ve been with the New Jersey Scholars for about four years now, so I’ve been with them for a while. They just nurtured me. Open gyms whenever I could get in the gym they were there to provide a gym. Learned a lot under Coach Wagner, just teaching me how to be a better guard, make the right reads, get open shots from the top of the key or from the mid-post. Also, just being more of a leader off the court. Like after a loss to talk to your teammates and see how they’re feeling. If we had a good game to celebrate the win and then just focus on the next one because the job’s not done.”"

Two things stick out about his answer: it appears he had a great relationship with Coach Wagner, whose father is conveniently on staff at the University of Louisville, and he calls himself a ‘guard.’ Mackenzie Mgbako is listed as a power forward on 247Sports but interestingly calls himself a guard in this interview.

Kenny Payne is very fond of guards over 6-foot-5, and Mgbako is listed at 6-foot-8, so he fits into the Kenny Payne mold. And Kenny Payne was teammates with both Pervis Ellison and Dajuan Wagner’s father, Milt Wagner, on the 1985-1986 Louisville Cardinals team. So, one would think that there would be a lot of communication between Kenny Payne and Pervis Ellison, and Milt Wagner and Dajuan Wagner.

That in and of itself should be encouraging to Louisville fans, but to add onto that, Assistant Coach Nolan Smith helped recruit Mgbako to Duke before he took the job at the University of Louisville. So, there is a previous relationship there, too.

Mackenzie Mgbako is building his NIL portfolio very early on by signing a deal with G Fuel.

In June 2022, Mgbako signed with CAA Sports to coordinate his NIL representation and now he has used that to his advantage in inking a deal with G Fuel in March 2023.

CAA Sports also represented former Duke players, Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin. So, it made sense for Mgbako to follow suit. There is no doubt that this will be the start of an incredible NIL portfolio. Prior to the G Fuel deal, he did appear, briefly, in a commercial for a Google Pixel, alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and former Duke star Jayson Tatum.

So, he has some prior NIL experience and now can build on that with G Fuel. This is unique because in Rob Cassidy’s article Ranking the Contenders: Mackenzie Mgbako, he mentions, “that it’s common knowledge that Louisville is armed with a cannon full of NIL money.” Meaning that Louisville could be a great place for Mackenzie Mgbako to continue his basketball career and build his NIL portfolio.

Louisville is garnering some competition from former Head Coach Rick Pitino, who is now the Head Coach at St. John’s University.

Yesterday, Cerebro Sports’ Andrew Slater reported that Rick Pitino will meet with Mackenzie Mgbako today.

However, it does not say that Mgbako will be visiting St. John’s on an official visit. So, this could mean that they are meeting at a neutral site or Pitino could be making a home visit to the former Duke commit. If he was on an official visit, then there would be more cause for concern. But, this may be a formality for both sides, as Louisville is still in contention for Mgbako.

According to 247Sports’ Travis Branham, the main two options for him are Louisville and the pro route. But, according to Rivals’ Rob Cassidy, St. John’s and Memphis were expected to make a push. So, the visit with Coach Pitino should not be a surprise to Louisville fans.

Mackenzie Mgbako recently played fellow Louisville target Carter Bryant as a part of the Nike Hoop Summit in Oregon.

Team USA and Team World recently played on April 8th and Mackenzie Mgbako suited up for Team World representing Nigeria. He led all scorers with 22 points, but it was not enough to lift Team World over Team USA, falling 90-84.

But, prior to that, Team World scrimmaged against the Portland Generals, a team managed by Pro Insight’s Matt McKay. Notable Portland Generals players include Paolo Banchero, Jaden McDaniels, Kevin Porter Jr., and now Carter Bryant can be named among them.

In a recent interview with Pro Insight, Bryant mentioned playing against Mackenzie Mgbako but quickly followed it up with his lack of fear in playing against big-time players like the 6-foot-8, 210-pound prospect.

Carter Bryant is one of the top prospects in the Class of 2024, and he recently trimmed his list of schools down to Louisville and Arizona. So, the fact that two primetime players on Louisville’s radar shared the floor together is pretty exciting for the potential of the Louisville basketball program.

As it sits right now, Louisville holds the No. 5 overall recruiting class with the potential to move up even higher. Let the anticipation continue to build as we wait for Mackenzie Mgbako to announce his college decision.

Cerebro Sports’ Andrew Slater mentions that he has known Mgbako since he was in eighth grade, but he is keeping his cards close to his chest with his decision, but Louisville fans shouldn’t get too worried about losing out on him. Not just yet, at least.

Related Story. Tylor Perry includes Louisville in his Top 8 schools. light