BOZICH | Grandfatherly love: From Milt to Dajuan to D.J. Wagner on the basketball court
The Wagner basketball legacy continues: From Milt, the former Louisville star, to his son Dajuan, a former first-round NBA pick, to his 11-year-old grandson, D.J.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I remember my reaction the first time Milt Wagner told me he had a son, Dajuan, who was going to be a better basketball player than his father.
I laughed. That was The Ice Man being The Ice Man.
We were at the Street Ball Showdown in downtown Louisville, and Milt Wagner said Dajuan had more skills than he had flashed while helping the University of Louisville win the 1986 NCAA championship.
I also remember my reaction the first time Milt told me he had a grandson, D.J., who was going to be a better basketball player than his grandfather.
I did not laugh.
I asked him when his grandson was scheduled to be in town.
The phone call came mid-week. “D.J. will be here Saturday,” Wagner said. “His team just finished sixth in the AAU Nationals in Florida.”
That explains why I bounced between two gymnasiums in Jeffersontown with Milt and Dajuan Saturday, to watch a regional basketball tournament featuring teams of 11-year-olds from New York, New Jersey, St. Louis, Kansas City, Kentucky and points in between.
It’s important to tread carefully here. One coach stopped me with a tip that the best fifth-grader in America (Class of 2023, if you’re counting) was in the house, a 5-foot-10 kid who went toe-to-toe with LeBron James’ 11-year-old son, LeBron Jr., in Wichita, Kansas last weekend.
Whoa. There’s no reason to write or say anything crazy about kids who will be starting the sixth grade later this month. I’ll try to practice safe hype.
First things first: D.J. Wagner has fun playing basketball. His smile is more delightful than his crossover dribble – and the kid is terrific changing directions.
“That’s the number one thing,” Dajuan Wagner said. “Just enjoy the game. No pressure.”
“I’m just having a good time being with my family, getting to watch my grandson play,” said Milt Wagner, who is 53. “With him living in New Jersey, I haven’t seen him play many organized games. This is fun for me.”
The second item Milt and Dajuan wanted in this story is equally important: D.J. is a straight-A student who loves being in the gymnasium with his father, the first-round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002.
Now the basketball: I watched Wagner score 22 points in a 24-minute game as his team, New Heights, defeated a squad from Kansas City, 52-37.
He could have scored more. Much more.
He was not hunting shots and one of Wagner’s teammates is the talented son of former University of Cincinnati guard Kenny Satterfield, the team’s coach. Wagner is comfortable with either hand, uses the glass, plays defense with enthusiasm and shares the ball. Floaters, drives, rebounds, three-pointers. He created ways to score.
Did I mention that he plays with a super-sized smile that appeared to infect his teammates, too?
“D.J. is a confident kid who already knows how to be a leader out on the court,” Satterfield said. “His teammates have confidence in him.”
The first time D.J. touched the ball he drove the right side, scored, got fouled and made the free throw.
The second time he buried a three-point shot from the right wing. Then another three from the right side. Then another three from the top of the key.
Four field-goal attempts, 12 points.
Not one of those three-point shots touched a millimeter of the rim.
“I try to shoot it like my grandfather,” D. J. Wagner said.
Know this: D.J. beat his grandfather in a three-point shooting contest from NBA distance at a gym in New Jersey earlier this summer.
“He can drive it like his father and shoot it like me,” Milt Wagner said, with a laugh. “If he ends up being about 6-4 or 6-5, look out.”
Milt, remember, is 6-5, a former McDonald’s all-American who arrived at U of L from Camden, N.J. in 1981. He played 53 games in the NBA but performed for about a decade in overseas pro leagues.
Dajuan was listed at 6-2. He’s still the highest scoring player in the history of high school basketball in New Jersey – with his name on the Camden High School court to prove it.
Dajuan said D.J. stands 5-8 and wears size 9 ½ shoes. Milt was narrow and angular. Dajuan was thick and powerful. D.J. is built more like his grandfather.
Milt Wagner moved to Louisville in 2015, stepping away from an assistant coaching career that took him to Memphis (where Dajuan played), UTEP and Auburn. Digestive problems and injuries limited Dajuan Wagner to 104 games in parts of four NBA seasons.
He turned 33 in February but has not officially retired from basketball. Dajuan Wagner said he did not want to discuss his career. He was in Louisville to enjoy visiting his father and watch D.J. compete.
In fact, for Milt Wagner the other highlights of the weekend were taking his family to see Freedom Hall, the Muhammad Ali Center, the KFC Yum! Center and the University of Louisville’s basketball practice facility.
“D.J’s already a gym rat,” Milt Wagner said. “I just wanted him to know what’s out there if he keeps working hard.”
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