RICK BARRY, BOBBY HURLEY JR., KELLY TRIPUCKA, KYRIE IRVING, KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, JAY WILLIAMS, ANDREW BYNUM, LUOL DENG, JOAKIM NOAH, TIM THOMAS. The list goes on and on of former New Jersey High School players who were the star of stars in high school. All eventually made the NBA. Most have had major success. However, nobody in the history of the talent rich state of New Jersey hoops captivated the hearts of fans as much as Dajuan Wagner. Wagner was indeed a legend and myth.

In a city highlighted by crime, poverty, drugs, and corruption, Camden, New Jersey has always had one outlet. Basketball. In 2000 and 2001 the shining light for the destitute city was a baby-faced 6’2″ 200 pound guard for the Camden High School Panthers. In the winter of 2000, the kid nicknamed “The Messiah” put the city of Camden in a positive spotlight. The son of former Louisville star and former NBA player Milt Wagner led Camden High School to the New Jersey High School Tournament of Champions championship. He packed high school gyms throughout the state. He sold out Rutgers University (THE RAC). People wanted a glimpse of him. Wagner provided that. And he did it in the most spectacular fashion that has never been seen before in New Jersey.

Wagner averaged 42.5 points a game as a senior in 2001 and scored 3,462 points in his high school career, which is the New Jersey state record for career points. He scored an astronomical 100 points in a single game. For his exploits, Wagner was named in 2001 as the USA TODAY’s boys high school basketball player of the year.

After his illustrious high school career, “Juanny” as he was known by friends headed to Memphis to play for Head Coach John Calipari. After averaging 21.2PTS, 2.5REB, and 3.6AST in his one year at college, it was off to the NBA. Wagner was often compared to Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Allen Iverson throughout his high school and college career. Now he was going to be playing against the future Hall of Famer in the NBA.


The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Wagner with the 6th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. He was supposed to be the savior DAJUAN WAGNERof the franchise before a certain “King” arrived. Wagner had solid success as a rookie, averaging 13.4PTS, 2.8AST, and 1.7REB a game. The potential for stardom was evident and Wagner was surely going to build upon his promising rookie year.

The potential and buzz started to fade. Hampered by injuries, Wagner’s career and life took a nosedive. He was subsequently hospitalized with a serious condition called ulcerative colitis and had to have his colon removed. For someone with so much promise and talent this was devastating to Wagner’s career. After being drafted to become the face of the Cleveland Cavaliers he was released in 2005. The player who took the reigns of the Cavaliers was the “King”, LeBron James.

In 2006, Wagner rebounded from his illness and signed a 2-year contract with the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, 2 months later he was released. He ended up going overseas and playing in Poland before another set of injuries forced him to return home to New Jersey.


On most days now you can find Wagner in Cherry Hill, NJ at the Adrenaline Sports Performance Center in which he owns. He is still working out with hopes of trying to make a comeback. At 32-years old, he knows the clock is ticking down. His godfather William Wesley is trying to help him make a comeback. Wesley is known in NBA circles as “World Wide Wes”. He is considered a power broker and one of the most influential people on the business side of basketball.

Whatever happens in Dajuan Wagner’s basketball future remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain. In 2000 and 2001 he took the fans of New Jersey high school basketball on the ride of a lifetime. Perhaps most importantly, Dajuan Wagner gave the cold, dark city of Camden, New Jersey something to be proud of and will always be its shining light.

Article was previously published in December 2015



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