A frigid drizzle is coming down on a gradual October afternoon while DJ Wagner and his father, Dajuan, are standing in front of a building build located on Park Boulevard. There’s a plethora of iron beams standing in front of them, as the new building’s façade begins to recall form. To the left of them is a cardboard rendering poster of what the final product will gaze admire once it’s finished in September of 2021. They many times look over at the image after which flip their consideration simply motivate to the building build.
The positioning became home to the century former Camden High College, whose traditional castle tower structure became demolished a couple of years ago to manufacture device for a enlighten-of-the-artwork $133 million new facility that is anticipated to be ready for varsity students next tumble (lessons relish since long gone virtual ensuing from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic).
Within the previous building, the Wagner household’s imprints were four a long time deep, the effect each and every hoop star helped propel Camden onto the nationwide stage.
First, it became Milt Wagner, who led the Panthers to a enlighten championship in 1979 and became a McDonald’s All-American in 1981. He and Camden teammate Billy Thompson went on to Louisville, the effect together they won an NCAA nationwide title in 1986. Milt became then drafted in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft, and finally reunited with Thompson while twiddling with the Los Angeles Lakers. Together, they won an NBA championship two years later.
They’re for the time being basically the most convenient teammate duo in historic previous to in finding titles together at all three ranges.
Milt’s son, Dajuan Sr. (above), donned Camden’s pink and gold nearly two a long time later and straight grew to become one in every of the Backyard Express’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 enlighten title as a junior (which integrated an 80-level performance) and famously dropped 100 points in a sport against Camden County Tech as a senior. The All-American graduated Camden as Contemporary Jersey’s all-time leading scorer with 3,462 points. The profession points and three-digit single-sport performance are serene-standing enlighten info. After one season at Memphis below John Calipari, Dajuan would bag chosen with the sixth absorb the 2002 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. His authentic profession, even though, became slash rapid ensuing from a collection of injuries and smartly being points, along side a battle with ulcerative colitis.
Almost two a long time after the Dajuan days at Camden, his son, DJ, is now rocking the the same pink and gold threads that his father and grandfather once did—all while being labeled next inheritor to town’s throne. Fully a sophomore, DJ is ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2023.
DJ is able to jot down his hold legend, to manufacture his version of the Wagner legacy one for the books.
Dajuan Sr. remembers when DJ wished to play on a soccer crew with his older brother. DJ became handiest 4 years former at the time, while his sibling became 7. Their soccer coach became a bit uneasy with letting DJ recall part in the total actions with this sort of mountainous age gap.
But, Dajuan Sr felt admire DJ had that extra edge to his step.
“After they bought to their first day of tools, they were contact hitting. The coach urged me he didn’t relish to let him hit, [but] I’m admire, ‘Let him hit!’” Dejuan Sr. talked about. “ He became a mountainous itsy-bitsy one [for] his age. [DJ] wished to hit. It became full contact. These kids were three years older than him.”
“The following day, we’re in the home around 5 – 6 o’clock. Prepare became around six, seven o’clock. He came in the lounge, ‘Dad, I bought educate in the present day?’ That’s after I knew he wasn’t no p—y! They were hitting him and they weren’t taking it easy on him either.”
Dajuan Sr. wished to be cautious when it came to introducing basketball to his kids. He knew the household name held hundreds of weight in the game, especially in Camden. DJ first and critical took a liking for soccer and so the household spent evenings and weekends on the gridiron as an different, till his ardour for basketball in the end surpassed all other sports actions.
“That you might relish these manufacture of fogeys, they stay through their kids,” Dajuan Sr. talked about. “After I became constructing, ensuing from my dad performed too, at the time I didn’t relish it became pressure. Nevertheless as a dad or mum, you take into story it. You’re overprotective of your itsy-bitsy one. That became the element about letting [DJ] play soccer. Letting him beginning his hold lane. Once he bought former enough to hear reviews and know that his household—we play basketball—he talked about he wished to play basketball. We urged him we’re going to effect what we bought to effect to present him the finest likelihood to meet his dream.”
DJ indeed grew up listening to the full reviews from around the neighborhood about who his dad and grandpa were. It became unavoidable. He in the end saw tapes of the older Wagner’s putting in work with the Camden moniker stitched in gold on their jerseys.
DJ studied those tapes. He memorized a couple of of the reviews.
“It’s crazy staring at my dad and grandpa play in high college ensuing from appropriate to peek them in the the same topic I am, playing for Camden High, it’s appropriate crazy,” DJ talked about. “I admire staring at their tapes. Correct seeing the formula they performed in high college and the device crazy it became ensuing from it became the the same device after they were in high college—perchance even crazier…Seeing their former highlights, I relish is resplendent chilly.”
Even when DJ had his take of neighboring non-public schools to in finding from, attending Camden High became the lengthy traipse he wished from the bounce.
“I by no device in actual fact looked at it as pressure. I appropriate always became excited,” DJ talked about. “I former to always appropriate treasure to hear in regards to the reviews when my dad and grandpa were in high college, and the device crazy the video games former to be. After I became youthful, I former to always toddle to Camden video games, explore them play in States. I always thought of appropriate playing for Camden High and the device crazy it’s far also. I always wished to play for them, seeing how passionate their fans [are]—that ambiance.”
His mother, Syreeta, saw appropriate how unprecedented her son wished to persist with it the Wagner household’s basketball heritage and join the the same tradition that embraced their household years ago.
“All he talked about when he became youthful became playing for Camden High College. That’s all he talked about,” talked about his mother, Syreeta. “For him to in actual fact be residing in this moment, playing for Camden High College, wearing his pink and gold… that moment is all the things to him. That became one in every of his dreams, to play for Camden High after his dad and his grandpa. He’s residing out one in every of his dreams already.”
All the device through DJ’s freshman season, it became looking admire the youngest Wagner became on his solution to breaking the 20-yr drought for the Panthers. Camden — who hasn’t won a enlighten title since 2000, when Dajuan Sr. became in 11th grade—became ranked No. 16 in the nation by MaxPreps this previous March. Their file became 29-1 (they went on a 25-sport winning trail at one level) heading into the NJSIAA Neighborhood 2 tournament semifinals, but then the rest of the season became cancelled ensuing from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elusive enlighten title traipse must wait. As for the upcoming 2020-21 season, the enlighten affiliation will enable teams to compete in league play, yet a postseason enlighten tournament has yet to be confirmed and feels unlikely.
“I became excited. We were all excited ensuing from we were simply there,” DJ talked about about his freshman season ending without notice. “We made it to States, and as shortly as we bought there, they appropriate cancelled all the things. It hit us resplendent corrupt ensuing from we were excited, we were anxious to play in the states and with any luck in finding the enlighten after which even winning TOC—that’s admire the larger version, that’s for the full enlighten. So, we were appropriate upset after they cancelled it. Especially for the seniors on our crew. We were simply there, so it became crazy.”
Father and son McDonald’s All-American duos are a rarity, with handiest a handful in historic previous: from Rick and Jalen Brunson (as destiny would relish it, Rick become the pinnacle coach at Camden in 2019) and Doc and Austin Rivers, to Ricky and Justice Winslow and James Blackmon Sr. and Jr. For sure, the fifth duo is Milt and Dajuan. Nevertheless a grandfather/father/son All-American trio? That’s by no device happened.
On the NBA diploma, the daddy-son(s) list is a bit longer: Dell, Seth and Steph Curry, Joe and Kobe Bryant, Mychal and Klay Thompson, Bill and Luke Walton, Tim Hardaway Sr. and Jr., among many others. Nevertheless a grandfather/father/son League trio? Nope, no longer at this diploma either. If DJ’s trajectory continues at this tempo, the Wagner household can completely become the key household to effect that feat on a couple of playing ranges.
“It’s admire a cycle going throughout again. I relish all the things occurs for a reason,” Dejuan Sr. talked about. “My dad became in Europe after I became constructing [and he] former to advance home every summer season. I by no device bought a likelihood to work on my sport with my dad. So, me getting in poor health, I became here with [DJ] and I relish that’s how he developed faster skill-colorful—he bought device extra expertise than I had at that age.”
No matter what the lengthy traipse holds, residing in the moment is all that DJ and the Wagner household are attracted to. Forty years of basketball prowess across three generations, this bound isn’t new to them. Even DJ, with a No.1 ranking and all, is bearing in tips changing into one in every of the finest.
His father, on the opposite hand, thinks DJ will seemingly be larger than he ever became.
“Of us relish I’m crazy after I order it,” he persevered. “I am going off, you realize, ensuing from I take into accout after I became youthful [and] I performed at a high diploma. I appropriate relish after I became his age, he’s larger than me. [That’s] what I return to—what I’d effect at that age. [He’s] extra expert.”
Portraits by Johnny Lewis