By Phil Anastasia
Dajuan Wagner used to jump in the layup line before Camden High School basketball games when he was in second grade.
But his passion for the Panthers goes back longer than that.
"My whole life, I've loved this program," Wagner said. "It's all I've ever known."
Wagner is a Camden basketball legend who scored a state-record 3,462 points and led the Panthers to the Tournament of Champions title in a career that ended in 2001.
His bond with the program was tightened Monday during a ceremony before the first day of practice for the 2014-15 team as the playing surface at Clarence Turner Gymnasium was officially named, Dajuan Wagner Court.
"Whatever you heard about how good he was, he was better than that," Camden athletic director Mark Phillips told a gathering of Camden students, including the entire boys' basketball program.
Wagner, who played one year at the University of Memphis and was the No. 6 pick in the 2002 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, said he was touched by the sight of his name in purple paint on both sides of his old home court.
"It means a lot," Wagner said. "Camden High basketball has always meant everything to me."
Wagner, 31, stopped playing professionally in 2007 because of a series of health issues. He recently re-started his career, playing for the Phladelphia Spirit of the ABA.
"It's going good," Wagner said. "I'm feeling good, starting to get back in shape."
Former Camden star Vic Carstarphen, who helped Temple to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in the early 1990s, said Wagner was the "personification" of Camden basketball.
"He's everything," said Carstarphen, an assistant coach for the current Camden team. "His mentality, his attitude, his passion for the city. It couldn't happen to a better player and a better person."
Wagner has remained close with the Camden program since his graduation and has been an unofficial assistant coach for the Panthers for the last few years. He is the co-owner of a workout facility in Cherry Hill that provides training opportunities for Camden athletes.
"That's who he is -- he's always going to give back," said Camden city councilman Arthur Barclay, a teammate of Wagner's at Camden and Memphis. "This place is his dream. He played high D-1, played in the NBA but his dream always was to play for Camden High."
Phillips said Wagner's devotion to Camden basketball and youngsters in the city was as much the impetus for naming the court after him as his exploits in a Panthers uniform.
"Good times, bad times, he's always been here for this program," Phillips said.
Wagner is the son of former Camden star Milt Wagner, who won a state title in high school, a national title at Lousville University and an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"This is where I come from," Dajuan Wagner said. "I want people to see what I see, all these good kids from Camden."
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