Wagner Officially Pledges To Play For Calipari At Memphis The Camden Star Will, As Expected, Join His Father And An Ex-teammate In Playing For The Former 76ers Assistant.

Posted: November 09, 2000

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — University of Memphis basketball coach John Calipari said he never would have gotten a commitment from Camden High's Dajuan Wagner, the nation's top high school player, if Calipari hadn't been an assistant coach with the 76ers last season.

"I would have never met him," Calipari said.

In addition to getting to know Wagner and his family, Calipari persuaded Wagner's best friend and teammate, Arthur Barclay, to commit to Memphis. He also gave Wagner's father, Milt, a job.

But first he got to know Dajuan Wagner, who was friendly with Allen Iverson and often went to Sixers games.

"They came to practices, and I'm there. Now all of a sudden it didn't matter where I went, they wanted to come with me," Calipari said of Barclay, a freshman at Memphis this year, and Wagner, who signed a letter of intent yesterday to attend the school next fall. "It didn't matter if I was going to Michigan, Memphis, UCLA. Wherever I was going."

Since he was an NBA coach last season, Calipari didn't have to abide by NCAA recruiting rules about observing and talking to high school players. He was a free citizen. He made it to a number of Camden High games.

"It was a benefit that he just took advantage of," Milt Wagner said yesterday. "He was right there next to Camden, so he could get to the Camden games, and it was legal for him to be there. He was at quite a few games."

R.C. Johnson, the Memphis athletic director, said he first spoke to Calipari, former coach of the New Jersey Nets, about the Memphis job in December.

"If you want to get fired, and be an assistant in the NBA, and that's how you get an advantage, then go do it," said Calipari, who was hired by Memphis in March. "I wasn't there to do it. Larry Brown wanted me to help him. I didn't go there to be around [Wagner]. I didn't know if I was going to be a pro coach or a college coach. And I didn't know what college I was going to.

"Even that last week, there were some mix-ups down the stretch. It was not done until the last day. To say you knew, I didn't know. I did not know."

He offered Milt Wagner a job as coordinator of basketball operations. Wagner, 37, himself a former Camden High great, was a star for the University of Louisville when the Cardinals won the 1986 NCAA title team. He also played for the Lakers when they won the 1988 NBA title, and had been playing professionally in Europe until early last year. "Coach Cal and I have known each other for a while, even when I was playing," Wagner said.

"I need a degree to be officially on the coaching staff, but I'm around the players, which is good," said Wagner, adding that he is about a year away from getting his degree. "Right now, I do a lot of the travel [arrangements]. At practice, I run the clock, or I might do some refereeing." He was on the bench for Memphis' exhibition game last Thursday.

Wagner said he plans to get into coaching and had talked with Calipari about that before Calipari had taken the Memphis job.

Did Louisville, also recruiting Dajuan, offer a job?

"They didn't really have a position for me," Milt Wagner said of Louisville. "They said they wished they had one for me. They just didn't have anything available."

All sides insist it wasn't Wagner's going to Memphis that got Dajuan to commit. It didn't hurt, Milt Wagner said of his taking the job. But it was the decision of Barclay, who lived with Wagner all through high school, to attend Memphis, that was the decisive factor. And one person involved in the recruiting said Dajuan's mother had a much bigger say in the decision than his father.

Calipari said he didn't understand why more schools hadn't recruited Barclay, a 6-7 forward who averaged 24 points and 17.8 rebounds for Camden's state championship team last season. He is sitting out this season because of NCAA academic restrictions.

"You know what, you win with guys who do all the dirty work," Calipari said of Barclay. "That's what he does. He'll never be our star. I never said he would be here. But a team is a couple of stars, a leader, and guys who want to work."

Mike Jensen's e-mail address is mjensen@phillynews.com

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