For the second consecutive year, Camden’s D.J. Wagner has been named the South Jersey Sports Zone Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
The consensus No. 1 player nationally in the Class of 2023 averaged a team-high 19.8 points per game and paced Camden to its first NJSIAA state championship since 2000. Wagner was also named the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year for the second year in a row. The Camden guard joined elite company becoming only the fourth player to win the award in back-to-back seasons. Wagner joins former Villanova standout Tim Thomas, Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns and Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly as the only players to receive the honor two years in a row.
And rightfully so.
Wagner contributed a game-high 20 points in the Panthers’ 93-52 win over Newark Central in the Group 2 state final at Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway on March 13. Four days later, he lifted Camden to its first Tournament of Champions final since 2000 with a 30-point performance in a 60-50 win over Group 4 state champion Elizabeth in the TOC semifinals.
The Panthers quest to their first TOC title since 2000 ended with a heartbreaking 61-58 loss to Roselle Catholic in overtime. Despite the outcome, Wagner managed to produce a game-high 23 points. He also finished with a game-high 25 points in a 67-64 win over the Lions in the GEICO ESPN High School Basketball Showcase in Camden last December. The 6-foot-3 combo guard nearly matched his career-high of 32 points with 31 in a 100-54 win over Group 3 state champion and crosstown rival Woodrow Wilson on January 25. He proceeded to surpass the previous mark with a career-best 33 in a 92-42 win over Manchester Township in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals. Wagner also notched a team-best 23 points in a key 76-64 win over Lenape in early January. He displayed his talents on the national stage with 21-point performances in victories over nationally-ranked Milton (GA) and Sierra Canyon (CA).
His team-high 18 points also lifted Camden past Gill St. Bernard’s, 57-55, at the Metro Classic in Toms River on February 3. Two days later, Wagner contributed a team-high 17 as the Panthers cruised past St. Peter’s Prep, 70-46.
“Those were two big wins,” Wagner said. “We just like to take it one game at a time. Those were two great teams we played against so we knew we had to come out and fight.”
The reigning South Jersey Sports Zone Player of the Year currently holds offers from Kentucky, Memphis, Syracuse, Temple, Villanova and Penn State. Wildcats coach John Calipari was accompanied by assistant coach Orlando Antigua to see Wagner compete in the TOC final at Rutgers University on March 20. Antigua recruited the Camden junior, per 247Sports.
The two-time SJ Sports Zone Olympic Conference Player of the Year visited Kentucky last October along with Gill St. Bernard’s wing Mackenzie Mgbako. Mgbako is the third-ranked player in the 2023 ESPN 60.
“He’s a great player,” Wagner said of Mgbako. “That’s our boy right there. We play AAU together.”
Wagner finished the 2021-22 campaign with 634 points in 32 games played. He enters his senior year with 1,477 career points and will look to join his grandfather, Milt Wagner, his father, DaJuan Wagner, Greg Barr, Nate Johnson, Kevin Walls, and current Camden mayor Vic Carstarphen as the only Camden players to surpass 2,000 career points.
“D.J. is D.J.,” Camden coach Rick Brunson said. “He’s always gonna give 110 percent.” — South Jersey Sports Zone (SJSZ) was co-founded by Kevin Emmons in 2017. The brand covers high school sports and promotes South Jersey pride. If you’d like to keep up with SJSZ, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.