Louisville Hopes Top Recruit D.J. Wagner Will Follow Grandfather To Cardinals

Written By Veronica Sparks on June 16, 2022 - Last Updated on May 22, 2023
Cardinals hire grandfather of top basketball recruit

The University of Louisville recently hired a new Director of Player Development and Alumni Relations. Milt Wagner is a former star for the Cardinals and his grandson, D.J. Wagner, is the number one basketball recruit in the country.

The two schools gunning for D.J. Wagner are Louisville and the University of Kentucky.

Apart from Milt’s credentials which make him a good fit for the new role, the Cardinals are hoping to leverage the hire by securing D.J. Wagner’s recruitment.

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Milt Wagner’s basketball legacy

Even before Milt’s new leadership position at Louisville and D.J.’s emerging future in college basketball, the Wagner family has had a solid foot in the college basketball industry.

From 1981-82 to 1985-86, Milt played for the Louisville Cardinals. On three separate occasions, Milt got All-Metro Conference honors, and he even went to three separate Final Fours.

By the end of his basketball career, he was ranked in the top 10 in program history for:

  • Free throw percentage
  • Games played
  • Points
  • Assists

After those four years playing college ball, Milt became a second-round pick in the 1986 NBA draft for the Dallas Mavericks. He went on to play professional basketball for 13 years overall, which includes the NBA championship run in 1988 with the LA Lakers.

Following his pro ball career, Milt spent 14 years coaching college ball. He has coached at Auburn, UTEP, and Memphis.

Louisville’s current coach, Kenny Payne, even played with Milt in 1986 on Louisville’s national championship team.

“My dad went to Louisville,” said Milt’s son, Dajuan Wagner. “Kenny, that’s my uncle. It shouldn’t take Kenny to get a job for my dad to be working for the university. He did a lot for that university.”

While he’s had a long career of basketball successes, Milt is happy to be back at Louisville. In a statement to ESPN he said:

“It’s an honor for me to return to my alma mater and work alongside my brother Kenny Payne. Louisville is my second home and I’ve always wanted to return here to work with this historic program that I contributed my blood, sweat, and tears as a student-athlete. I’m thrilled to be here with a terrific staff and help this program achieve at the highest level.”

Can history repeat itself? Memphis used same tactic with D.J.’s father

Milt isn’t the only Wagner patriarch to have a history in college basketball. His son, Dajuan Wagner, who is also D.J.’s father, previously played for Memphis under John Calipari, Kentucky’s current coach.

A driving factor in Dajuan signing with the Memphis Tigers was that Calipari hired his father, Milt, as Basketball Ops. Coordinator in 2000. “I love Cal,” Dajuan has said. “That was my coach.”

D.J. Wagner, top recruit still uncommitted

D.J. Wagner, who currently plays at Camden High School in New Jersey, is currently the most desired college basketball candidate for the class of 2023.

Kentucky and Louisville are both pursuing D.J. for the 2023 recruiting class. D.J. has still not committed to any particular school, though. “I’m still open to every college right now,” he has said. “I’m just enjoying the process.”

While he hasn’t publicly declared which school he’ll be playing for, he acknowledges the two intrastate programs – Kentucky and Louisville – where both coaches have ties to the Wagner family.

“Just the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry, I feel like that’s crazy. But I think that rivalry, just Kentucky and Louisville in general, the history behind it, it’s a great rivalry.”

Nonetheless, D.J. has said that in addition to Louisville and Kentucky, he’s also considering:

  • Arkansas,
  • Seton Hall
  • Syracuse

When asked about D.J.’s upcoming decision, Dajuan seemed to have faith in his son’s ability to choose. “It’s going to be D.J.’s decision,” he said. “I’ll be happy regardless.”

Photo by David Breslauer/Associated Press
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