By CELESTE E. WHITTAKER
PHILADELPHIA - Dajuan Wagner refuses to let his NBA dream die.
''Where I come from, we never quit,'' the Camden native said. ''I don't have any quit in me, so I'm just going to keep going."
The injuries and illnesses haven't dissuaded the former Camden High star, who made it back to the NBA last year only to have his time with Golden State cut short because he still wasn't feeling up to par.
Wagner had worked hard all summer and even scored 80 points in a summer league game in Cherry Hill and looked to be the picture of health. He'd impressed the Warriors enough that they signed him to a two-year contract worth a reported $1.6 million.
He further impressed in the preseason, leading the Warriors in scoring, but then, it all came to an end quickly, and before the start of the regular season, they'd agreed to buyout the remainder of his contract and he was on a plane headed home.
Now, he is once again starring in local summer leagues, including the Rankin-Anderson League at Drexel, where he dropped 50 in a recent game.
On a recent Thursday night, Wagner looked good in another victory for his team. He scored 31 points, hitting 13 of his 21 shots, and dished out nine assists on a team, which includes his former Camden High and University of Memphis teammate Arthur Barclay.
Wagner, who is also playing in leagues in Media, Pa., and Voorhees, had a thunderous baseline dunk that drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd, and also used a crossover dribble to slice his way to the basket for easy layups multiple times.
His jumper looked smooth and his quickness was there. At one point, a man in the crowd was leaving the gym, and shook Wagner's hand, saying, ''I see you've still got it.''
While his stamina didn't seem to be quite there -- he tired early in the first half and sometimes didn't cross midcourt -- he did play the entire game.
''I'm going to head for it,'' Wagner said of returning to the league. ''I'm going to see. Whatever (agent) Leon (Rose) wants me to do. I know I can play the game. I'm feeling a lot better, though. I know what to expect now."
The good news is, Wagner just turned 24 in February, so he's got some time. The other thing is, NBA teams still have interest. Wagner said he nearly played for the Denver Nuggets' summer league team, but twisted an ankle and opted not to go because he wouldn't have been himself.
Also, he's got Barclay beside him once again. His best friend looks out for his best interest and plans to go wherever Wagner ends up. Barclay graduated from Memphis in 2005, went straight to Maryland where he worked for Federal Express, but left the job recently to return to the area.
''I wanted to pursue other opportunities,'' Barclay, 25, said. ''I'm going to see what team he goes to and try to get a job with them, so I can stay with him and we can still be together. That's my brother. He looks good. You see the dunk on the baseline? I haven't seen that in about two years. I think this is the right year and the opportunity for him to really step up."
Said Wagner: ''I'm trying to get him back in shape. He's just been working. It's always fun playing with him.''
The negative is, the surgery which he endured in October of 2005 at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York, was very serious and you have to wonder if his body will ever be quite the same and whether it will ever be able to withstand the daily rigors of playing in the NBA, which is a lot different than summer league play. His stamina was an issue last preseason with Golden State.
Wagner, who had battled severe colitis, had his colon removed. Doctors essentially rebuilt him a colon, using the lining of his rectum and the last part of his small intestine.
''The kind of surgery I had was major,'' Wagner said. ''Now, I feel good, though. I feel like my old self. I've just been working out. I took a little rest. I'm feeling better, but I've just been working out, really."
Barclay said that Wagner confided to him that he didn't feel quite right last summer.
''He probably rushed back,'' Barclay said. ''He just wasn't feeling right. He knew that before. We'd talk and he'd be like, 'Man, I don't feel right.' Now, he's changed his diet and all that."
Growing up in Camden, playing in the NBA, like his father Milt had done years before, was in the forefront of his mind. It's what he worked towards every day. The countless hours he spent working on his game shooting jumpers, dribbling, by himself at times.
And while the former Camden High star did play three seasons (102 of a possible 246 regular season games) and average 9.4 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who selected him No. 6 overall in the 2002 NBA Draft, his best season was his first when he averaged 13.4 points and 2.8 assists in 47 games.
A knee injury, then the colitis, cut his career in Cleveland very short. But, he hopes to be back very soon.
Asked if he had a preference about which NBA team he played for, he said ''Denver, it doesn't matter, I just want to play. I'd love to play for Philly, but it doesn't matter.''
If he does end up in Denver, he'd be with former Sixers star guard Allen Iverson. The Nuggets also recently signed veteran guard Chucky Atkins and have another young, athletic guard, J.R. Smith, on their roster as well.
''I'm getting there,'' said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Wagner, who has missed the last two NBA seasons. ''I feel good. I feel like I'm almost there, just a little bit more conditioning. I feel better health-wise than last summer. I'm eating good. I feel way better than I did last summer."
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Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2004 9:05 am
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The Broe Knows Dont Hate....
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Definately had the talent and has a real chance of making a roster on an nba team
migya make the ring fall on ya
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