By Jamarius Russell
Growing up playing basketball, there is always a dream of being able to play at a major Division I college basketball program. Of course, achieving this goal means dedicating countless hours of time to perfect skills and work on the body. An even bigger dream is to play at that level with a longtime friend/teammate.
DJ Wagner and teammate Aaron Bradshaw of Camden High School (NJ) have turned this dream into a reality.
Wagner and Bradshaw, the ESPN No. 1 and No. 5 recruits respectively, in the Class of 2023 have both committed to play at the University of Kentucky to be coached by one of the best college coaches of all time, John Calipari.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time now … it’s just fun to be able to go to the next level with him, and play on the same floor with him in college,” Wagner said.
Bradshaw, a 7-foot, five-star center has been a great pairing for Wagner on the court. To have a teammate who is this tall with great lateral movement, athleticism and the ability to shoot the outside shot is rare to find. When you couple him with a guard like Wagner, the game of basketball becomes easier.
Unless you are the opposing team.
“That’s my brother. I can yell at him, he can yell at me, we can argue.” Bradshaw said. “There’s no negative energy when we are in the game. We are team-oriented people, and I just love that. It’s a blessing to play with [Wagner].”
Sometimes, the aspect of chemistry can get overlooked. But when you have two five-star players, the chemistry has to be there in order to get everyone on the same page.
“It’s great,” Wagner says about the chemistry between the two stars. “Off the court, that’s like my brother.”
Longtime basketball fans know that Wagner’s father, Dajuan, was a force in his playing days. Averaging 21 points per game in college and having 70, 80, and 100-point games in high school – he was a feared man in the early 2000s. The only similarity between DJ and Dajuan’s careers is that they both have played for Camden.
Interestingly enough, DJ did not follow his father’s college path at the University of Memphis, where Dajuan became a top-10 NBA pick in the 2003 draft. Wagner decided to take his own route at Kentucky.
Well, that answer is pretty simple. “It felt at home, you know…” Wagner says. “Going out there, I can tell the environment is just a basketball atmosphere. It just felt good and made me comfortable with my commitment.”
Kentucky has been one of the best schools in terms of getting players to the NBA. With names such as John Wall, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, and countless other NBA stars. The pipeline from Kentucky to the NBA has been one of the best in college basketball for quite some time. So, Wagner and Bradshaw will have a lot of eyes on him next year when they put on that Wildcat uniform for the first time.
As Wagner looks to end his high school career on a high note, he is looking forward to what is waiting for him in Kentucky, along with putting his hometown on the map.
“Being from the same area, it’s just a great feeling. [Bradshaw and I] take a lot of pride in that, and are definitely excited for the upcoming year [at Kentucky].”
Being a five-star athlete, as well as the nation’s best basketball player, draws many eyes to Wagner at all times. The majority of the time, teenagers are not used to bright lights, and the pressure can sometimes catch up to them. With Wagner, however, that is not the case.
“I don’t ever look at it as pressure. I’m out there having fun with my brothers and doing something I love to do,” he said.
Playing the game of basketball becomes much easier when it’s thought of as just that – a game. It also eases the pressure when playing with another top player to feed off.
The dynamic that these longtime teammates will bring to Kentucky is going to be a sight to see.
DJ Wagner and Aaron Bradshaw are on the path toward greatness and will continue to have a lot of people watching them and their futures in Lexington, Kentucky.
Photo: Daniel Curren / The Springfield Student