Dajuan Wagner says son motivated him to try an NBA comeback

dajuan_wagner1Dajuan Wagner was anything but an overnight sensation in the NBA, when he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 6th pick in the 2002 NBA draft.

The son of former NBA player Milt Wagner – who won an NCAA title with Louisville in 1986 and was a member of the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers NBA title team – Dajuan Wagner was a scoring machine before he came to the NBA.

Wagner scored 737 points as a freshman. He averaged 35 points as a sophomore. He scored 47 in the state championship game as a junior. As a senior in 2000-2001, Wagner averaged 42 points and scored 100 in a game.

Then came the Memphis Grizzlies. Things started to go wrong for Wagner during his one-and-done season at Memphis. He was bothered by stomach aches and sometimes felt sapped of strength, according to Philly.com.

He missed his first 14 games with a bladder infection, a sign of bad things to come. Later that season, he tore cartilage in his right knee. Then came a series of ailments, from dehydration to an inflamed liver and pancreas to a sprained ankle to another knee injury.

Soon after that, Wagner learned that he had a severe case of colitis, an inflammation of the colon. He underwent surgery in October of 2005 to remove his colon and replace it with a pouch constructed from his small intestine.

Wagner battled back from that surgery, got himself in shape – or so he thought – and signed with Golden State in the summer of 2006. But after a strong preseason, he realized his body couldn’t withstand the demands of life as an NBA player. He was released in November 2006.

dajuan_wagner2He tried to play overseas, spending four months in the fall of 2007 with a team in Poland. But he said he landed hard on his hip, creating an infection that required another surgery.

“I just needed to rest my body,” Wagner said.

Wagner said there was a positive to his return home: He has been able to spend time with his son, Dajuan Jr., 9, as well as his daughter, Dayonni, 2, and stepson Kareem, 12.

Wagner said his son, who is a fourth grader, is a standout running back for the 85-pound Monroe Braves youth team, and a budding basketball star, too.

Lately, the younger Wagner has begun to express more interest in learning about his father and grandfather.

“He goes on the Internet and watches YouTube of me and my dad,” Wagner said.

Wagner knows all about the pressures of being the son of a famous father. He said he is careful to protect his boy from the weight of high expectations.

But he also says that his son’s burgeoning success in sports has been a big part of his motivation to try to make a comeback. He said his son wants to see him play for real, not just on video.

“He wants to see me do it,” Wagner said. “People tell him all the time about me, just like they used to tell me about my dad.”

Even though NBA training camps have opened, Wagner is not in a hurry. He said he wants to push himself hard for the next month and then gauge his strength and conditioning.

“I want to see how I feel,” Wagner said.

Wagner could play in Europe this winter or perhaps in China or Puerto Rico. He could test-drive his game in the NBA Development League.

dajuan_wagner3Wagner said his comeback is “not life or death.” He’s fine financially after signing a $10.7 million rookie contract with Cleveland. But he can’t help but wonder if he still can excel in the game he believes he was born to play.

“I don’t want to get to be 37 and think back and say, ‘I wonder if I could have still played,’ ” Wagner said. “If I feel strong enough, if my body is right, I know I can do it. The basketball won’t be a problem. I’ve done that my whole life.”

Wagner has committed to an intensive workout program that he hopes will lead to a resurrection of his career at the age of 31. Former NBA player believes he has begun to regain the explosive athletic ability that was as much the source of his success in the sport as his jump shot, ballhandling and court sense.

Wagner played a total of four seasons in the NBA, first three with Cleveland Cavaliers and one with Golden State Warriors. He averaged career high 13.4 ppg for the team in the 2002-03 season. In total, Wagner played in 103 NBA games, starting in 28, averaging 9.4 ppg in 21.4 mpg.


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