Meet The Wagners
Every basketball player's goal is to make it to the NBA. With a total of 30 teams and 450 roster spots, the likelihood of achieving that dream is 0.03%. Getting into the NBA is like hitting the lotto, which is why the prevalence of 2nd generation players in the NBA has become so intriguing. Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Love are just a few NBA stars whose fathers played on the highest level.
Milt Wagner and his son DeJuan have both reached the summit and are using their combined knowledge and resources to help mold DeJuan's son, D.J. Wagner, into a professional prospect. D.J. is 14 years old and was just named National Freshman of the Year by Grassroots Hoops.
Let's look at the Wagner family lineage and how Milt and DeJuan are positioning D.J. to become basketball rarity, a 3rd generation NBA player.
The Wagner family story begins in Camden, NJ, where Milt Wagner led the Camden Panthers to a state title in 1979. Standing a 6'5, Milt was a smooth shooting combo guard who used his size and length to score on smaller defenders earning Milt a Parade and McDonald's All-American nod. Milt chose to play at Louisville under the legendary hall of fame head coach Denny Crum. Milt led the Cardinals to three Final Four appearances and one national championship at Louisville.
When Milt left, he was 5th on its all-time scoring list, 9th in career assists, and 7th in career free throw percentage while playing in the 2nd most games in school history. Milt projected to be a first-round pick until he broke his foot during his senior campaign. Though Milt would redshirt and come back to win a national championship the following season, his draft stock never recovered. The Dallas Mavericks selected Milt in the 2nd round of the 1986 draft but cut him soon after. Milt would bounce around the CBA before landing on L.A. Lakers in 1987, where he would win a title with Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, and the rest of "Showtime" Lakers.
His basketball odyssey would take him to one more NBA destination, the Miami Heat, before going overseas for close to a decade. Milt is one of the few players to have won a state championship, NCAA championship, and an NBA title during his playing career. Milt would go on to become a coordinator of basketball operations at Memphis and serve as an assistant coach at UTEP and Auburn.
As Milt's ended, DeJuan's journey was just beginning. Born in 1983, DeJuan spent much of his adolescent years modeling his game after Milt. While Milt spent most of his career abroad, his connection with his son remained steadfast. As Milt's career began to end, he recognized DeJuan's talent and decided to be closer to his family in hopes of helping DeJuan realize his potential.
DeJuan started as a freshman and averaged 27.3 PPG, earning freshman of the year from ESPN. The next year would bring more of the same as DeJuan upped his scoring output to 35.3 PPG as a sophomore, earning sophomore of the year for ESPN.
Wagner's persona morphed into that of Camden's Boogieman, a cutthroat specimen at point guard capable of finishing at all three levels. DeJuan played and looked like a pro, demonstrating a level of polish rarely seen with scorers of his stature. If you want to put DeJuan's hype train in perspective, consider this, his nickname was "The Messiah." DeJuan's spectacular senior year coincided with Allen Iverson's enthralling MVP season, making many in basketball circles view Wagner as "Iverson 2.0". The two had similar games and looks, with the most significant difference being Wagner's three-inch height and 20 pounds weight advantage, which only enhanced his profile amongst scouts.
DeJuan chose to play at Memphis under John Calipari. During his lone season at Memphis, Wagner averaged 21.2 PPG, 3.6 APG, and 2.5 RPG. The team would go on to win NIT with Wagner winning MVP honors. Wagner wavered on coming back to Memphis before Calipari revoked his scholarship, ushering DeJuan into the pro ranks.
The Cavaliers selected Wagner with the 6th pick of the 2002 NBA draft, but injuries would begin to derail Wagner's career from the start. Wagner missed 35 games due to torn cartilage in his right knee and a mysterious stomach ailment his rookie season. The stomach issue would linger for years; doctors diagnosed DeJuan with ulcerative colitis, a disease that causes inflammation and ulcers of the colon. The condition not only brought on bouts of crippling abdominal pain but also hampered his stamina and induced significant weight loss, the pain became so severe that DeJuan opted for a surgery that removed half of his colon.
DeJuan would never return to his old form and inevitably found himself out of the league after five seasons at the tender age of 23. DeJuan made several attempts at a comeback and played some time overseas before coming home and settling in as part-owner of Adrenaline Sports Performance, an athletic training center in Cherry Hill, N.J.
D.J. just completed his freshman year at Camden High under head coach and former NBA player Rick Brunson. Rick Brunson's son Jalen is a member of the Dallas Mavericks and won 2 National Championships along with a National Player of the Year award at Villanova; it suffices to say Brunson has experience nurturing and developing young talent. In an interview with Rivals, Brunson said, "I had my son in the 9th grade, and they are not even comparable at the same stage," which is high praise. D.J.'s success thus far is a testament to Dejuan and Milt’s basketball savvy and tutelage.
At 14, it's way too early to start making projections. Time will ultimately tell whether D.J. has the potential to play at the highest level. One thing in for sure, the Wagner’s have got the game of basketball down to a science.