One More Road To Cross
Dajuan Wagner's Return To The NBA A Matter Of Hard Work And Determination
October 9, 2006

Dajuan Wagner is back in the NBA for the first time in nearly two years. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
The tattoo on Dajuan Wagner’s right arm says, “One more road to cross.” And while Wagner sweats away at Warriors training camp trying to make an impression on coach Don Nelson, he has to know that he has already overcome one enormous obstacle.

The once-promising point guard had his career derailed by colitis, an inflammation of the colon, and has been out of the NBA for nearly two years. Last October, he had his colon removed and lost 30 pounds before returning to the court.

Less than a year later, Wagner is looking like the player who once scored 100 points in a game for Camden (New Jersey) High School. The sixth pick in the 2002 draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers signed with the Warriors over the summer and has immediately shown he can be part of an exciting backcourt with Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and Monta Ellis.

Nelson will very likely use three of those players on the court at the same time often.

“If you’re going to be small, you have to make shots,” Nelson said. “The only guy who’s buried every shot so far has been Wagner.”

Nelson knew he was getting an offensive player in Wagner, but has been pleased with the 6-foot-2 guard’s all-around game.

“There isn't anything I haven't liked,” Nelson said. “He's guarded, he's passed, he's shot, he's done every drill.”

Wagner, 23, is just thrilled to be back on the court, and says he is working hard to get back to where he was his rookie season, when he averaged 13.4 points in 47 games for the Cavaliers. He scored a career-high 33 points against Toronto during his rookie campaign.

After having his colon removed following a battle with colitis, Wagner battled his way back to full strength. (warriors.com photo)
“My shot’s going all right,” he said. “I’m just trying to get my instincts back. My brain’s been on freeze as far as basketball goes for two years.”

Knee surgery cut Wagner’s second season short, and then 11 games into 2004-05, he finally got an explanation for years of stomach cramps. What doctors had originally thought was a bladder infection turned out to be colitis.

“Back in college, my last year in Memphis, my stomach started bugging me and it never got better,” Wagner said. “I was getting tired fast, and the coaches and doctors couldn’t figure it out.”

He was given medication for a bladder infection, but that didn’t help. He stopped playing basketball in April of 2005, six months before having his entire colon removed. He was down to 160 pounds but never thought he wouldn’t play again. Wagner, though, didn’t think he would be back in the NBA this soon.

“I didn’t play for a year, which was the worst, one of the hardest things I have been through,” he said. “I started gaining my weight back, but the way the doctor was talking, I was thinking I was going to be gone longer than I was.

“No one thought I would be back this strong, this fast.”

Wagner, the son of former NBA guard Milt Wagner, has looked so good that he will even get a shot at playing some point guard in the final days of training camp.

“I see the instincts in practice, because he has made really good passes," Nelson said. “They're not complicated passes, he never gets in trouble, he delivers all of them -- and that he can run a play or two, that's a good thing.”

Nelson sees Wagner as being in the same boat as Ellis, another offensive dynamo.

“He's a small two-guard, just like Ellis is a small two-guard, and both those guys eventually need to become capable of playing the point if they want to be great players,” Nelson said. “Otherwise, they'll just be good backups at the best.”

Wagner has done nothing but impress his teammates and coaches during training camp. (warriors.com photo)
Wagner has years of practice at running the pick-and-roll and said he would be comfortable at point guard because Nelson's offense is not complicated. When the Warriors host their open practice on Monday night, Wagner will have the chance to prove that he can be more than a good backup, as he will be starting the intrasquad scrimmage with the first team. Because Jason Richardson is still sidelined with a knee injury, Wagner will start alongside Baron Davis, Mickael Pietrus, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy for the 'blue team.'

“Our strengths are running and scoring the ball, and I can help us do that from shooting guard or point guard,” Wagner said. “I’m ready for whatever (Nelson) wants me to do. ... I’m excited. I’ve been away from the game for a while.”

Nelson is saying it’s just a look at point guard for now, but it’s clear he is starting to think of ways to get Wagner on the court as often as possible.

“Sometimes a guy looks really good, but ... all of a sudden, after the third week, he gets buried by the veterans,” Nelson said. “I don't see that happening to Wagner. I don't want to be too high on him, but he's been pretty good so far.”