A list of former New Jersey High School players who were stars in high school and all eventually made the NBA is pretty long. Including names like Kyrie Irving, Rick Barry, Karl-Anthony Towns ext.
Most have had significant 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 rough 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.
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 of 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, two 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.
He is still working out with hopes of trying to make a comeback. At the age 37, he knows the clock is ticking down.