It's incredibly easy to write something as trite as "before LeBron James, there was Dajuan Wagner," but, well, before LeBron James? There was Dajuan Wagner.
(And before Dajuan Wagner, there was JaRon Rush, but let's not get into that right now.)
Back in the summer of 2000, Wags was the biggest thing going, a bundle of energy combo guard that was the highest-rated prospect on what back then was thought to be a legendary high school senior class that included Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and Ousmane Cisse. Wagner, the son of former Lakers guard Milt Wagner, averaged over 42 points per game in his senior year for New Jersey's Camden High School, once managing 100 points in a single game.
Though Curry, Chandler and Cisse all skipped college to enter the prep-heavy 2001 draft, Wagner went to Memphis for a single season, working the one-and-done route before being selected sixth overall in the 2002 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, three spots ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire, a prepster whose stock had fallen following the relative struggles of Curry, Chandler and Cisse.
From there, things fell apart. The Cavaliers were in clear tanking mode, taking on a project in Wagner and hoping for the lottery odds needed to secure LeBron James in the 2003 draft. Wagner struggled through myriad internal illnesses -- kidney infections and pancreas issues finally resulted in him being diagnosed with colitis, which led to extended time away from the game as he recovered.
Between the NBA lines, he wasn't much. Wagner was a sturdy 6-2, but he was never a point guard, and diminutive scoring shooting guards who don't shoot well rarely have it easy in the NBA. The Cavaliers didn't even pick up his option following the 2004-05 season, and though he attempted a comeback both with the Golden State Warriors and a team in Poland, the now 28-year old Wagner hasn't played pro ball in three years.
Today, Matthew Stanmyre published a feature on Wagner in the Newark Star-Ledger, detailing his quiet fall from prominence, his current situation (apparently Wagner invested well, he currently doesn't work), and his hopes for an NBA return.
Wagner used to want to make it back to the NBA to prove [...] he could.
Now there's another reason: Dajuan Jr.
"He's never seen me in the NBA," Wagner said. "So that's one thing I want to do — get back to the NBA so he can watch me. Just us being in the house, him watching the games, I think it would be good to see his dad out there."
Wagner said he will intensify his workouts in the coming weeks to prepare for a comeback, but if things don't work out, he'll finish his degree and get into coaching.
These days, Wagner said it's painful to watch NBA games. He'll stare at the television screen for a few minutes, analyzing the action, and then he's had enough. He'll change the channel to something else.
Stanmyre goes on to point out that Wagner does enjoy watching the work of his former Cavalier teammate, LeBron James. And that isn't the only parallel between the two, as Wagner once had William Wesley power brokering on his side. Beyond that, though, the similarities thin out. Wagner appeared to reluctantly want to take part in this Star-Ledger feature, as he doesn't seem to unendingly crave the spotlight and attention in the same way that James had made infamous over the past few years.
Wagner's always had talent, so a comeback at age 28 isn't out of the question. But it seems like a long-shot, something that should be considered startling when you reflect on the fact that this one-time "can't miss" should be in the prime of his career.