On The Rebound
Ed Note: After KING went to print, Dajuan's health problems flared up and he left the Golden State Warriors. More information here
More than five years later, that game remains the stuff of legend in high-school basketball lore. On January 16, 2001, Camden High School's Dajuan Wagner scored 100 points in one game. Wagner made 42 of 60 shots from the field, including 10 three-pointers, and six free throws. His defenders weren't future NBA or even college-basketball players, but that made the feat no less remarkable. Just across the Delaware River from where the late Wilt Chamberlainâ€”who had made the 100-point game the benchmark for absolute basketball dominanceâ€”grew up in Philadelphia, Wagner joined the exclusive triple-digit club. An image of the teenager holding a basketball with "100â€ scrawled on it in black marker accompanied the story in local and national papers. The score (157-67) and the opponent (Gloucester Township Tech) are long forgotten by most, but the game will always stay with Wagner.
While the 100-point game was easily the most publicized moment of Wagner's high-school career and an eye-opener to the casual fan, he was already on NBA scouts' radars. Before LeBron James became the most-hyped high school basketball player ever, the kid known in his hometown as "Juannyâ€ wore the crown. At just 18 years old, with a quiet disposition that belied his ferocious game, the 6' 2â€, 200-pound guard was being compared to his "old head,â€ Allen Iversonâ€”only bigger.
When asked in 2001 if the baby-faced Wagner would be the NBA's "next big thing,â€ A.I. said, "I'd put my bet on that.â€
Wagner was the unanimously top-ranked high-school player in 2001, the hottest thing in prep hoops since the Lakers' Mamba. He could rain jumpers from steps inside halfcourt, freeze foes with his crossover dribble and fly over seven-footers for powerful dunks. He was already drawing praise from NBA coaches like Larry Brown as well as NBA players, many of whom he had already met through his father, Milt Wagner, and his godfather, hoops impresario William "Uncle Wesâ€ Wesley.
"I knew Juanny since he was 15,â€ says Iverson's teammate Rick Brunson. "And I knew he was gonna be a pro the first time I saw him play.â€
July 2006. Although the blue-chipper's early NBA career was derailed by surgeries on his knee and foot, as well as internal problems (most seriously an operation to remove his colon), he is the consummate professional. As he walks into Drexel University's gym in downtown Philadelphia, the fans in the crowd start murmuring. It's not the pros, but the Rankin-Anderson Pro-Am League has several participants who play in either the NBA or professional leagues overseas. Word had spread of Juanny having his way with the strong competition here and in another nearby summer league, and it's rumored that a couple of NBA teams have sent scouts to see his progress.
"I know what Juan means to the city of Camden, so it's good to see him back,â€ says Dave Hargrove, a Camden resident. "I heard he dropped 80 in one game over in [another league] against some NBA players.â€
It's just a summer-league game, but the fans are willing to endure the sweltering temperatures in a gym with no AC to see the local legend. As he sits on the bottom bleacher before taking the court, fans walk over to chat about his exploits the week before. One recaps seeing Juanny "give Cuttino [Mobley] and his team 67 last week.â€ As he warms up, it's easy to see that Wagner, now 23, still has the gift. That same swagger, that same chiseled frame, that effortless jump shot.
Continue reading this story in the December â€˜06/January â€˜07 issue of KING (#38)
Watch a highlight clip of Dajuan Wagner's 100 point high school game