THE THIRD Coming
Slam|November - December 2020
FOR DJ WAGNER, SON OF DAJUAN AND GRANDSON OF MILT—BOTH FORMER NBA PLAYERS—BASKETBALL RUNS IN HIS FAMILY’S BLOOD. OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS, HE’LL USE THAT TALENT AND HIS NO. 1 RANKING IN THE CLASS OF 2023 TO LEAD CAMDEN HS TO THE TOP OF THE BASKETBALL WORLD (AGAIN).
FRANKLYN CALLE

A COLD DRIZZLE IS coming down on a late October afternoon while DJ Wagner and his father, Dajuan, are standing in front of a construction site on Park Boulevard in Camden, NJ. There are a plethora of iron beams standing in front of them, as the new building’s facade begins to take shape. To the left of them is a cardboard rendering poster of what the final product will look like once it’s completed in September of 2021. They repeatedly glance over at the image and then turn their attention right back to the construction site.

The site was home to the century-old Camden High School, whose classic castle tower structure was demolished a couple of years ago to make way for a state-of-the-art $133 million new facility that is expected to be ready for students next fall. In the meantime, students have been attending a neighboring school, although classes have since gone virtual due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

In the old building, the Wagner family’s imprints were four decades deep, where each hoop star helped propel Camden onto the national stage.

First, it was Milt Wagner, who led the Panthers to a state championship in 1979 and was a McDonald’s All-American in 1981. He and Camden teammate Billy Thompson went on to Louisville, where together they won an NCAA national title in 1986. Milt was then drafted in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft and ultimately reunited with Thompson while playing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Together, they won an NBA championship in 1988.

They are currently the only teammate duo in history to win titles together at all three levels.

Milt’s son, Dajuan Sr, donned Camden’s purple and gold almost two decades later and instantly became one of the Garden State’s all-time greats. He averaged 27.3 points as a freshman and 35.3 points as a sophomore. He led the Panthers to a state title as a junior (which included an 80-point performance) and famously dropped 100 points in a game against Camden County Tech as a senior. The All-American graduated Camden as New Jersey’s all-time leading scorer with 3,462 points. The career points and three-digit single-game performance are still-standing state records. After one season at Memphis under John Calipari, Dajuan would get selected with the sixth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. His professional career, though, was cut short due to a series of injuries and health issues, including a battle with ulcerative colitis.

Almost two decades after the Dajuan days at Camden, his son, DJ, is now rocking the same purple and gold threads that his father and grandfather once did—all while being labeled next heir to the city’s throne. Only a sophomore, DJ is ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2023.

DJ is ready to write his own story, to make his version of the Wagner legacy one for the books.

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