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'Messiah' Leads Comeback Class of 2002

Jay Williams' attempt to comeback from a horrific motorcycle accident with the New Jersey Nets has captured most of the headlines this preseason, but as one of the commenters -- is that what these people are called? Or is it commentators? -- on this blog made clear to me yesterday, Williams isn't the only comeback kid on the block. Dajuan Wagner, selected just four spots behind Williams in 2002 at No. 6, is in Golden State, trying to latch on as a backup guard with the Warriors after missing all of last season because he had his colon removed.
In his first action in two years, Wagner returned with a bang last night, scoring 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting in 33 minutes of a 120-66 victory over Turkish power Efes Pilsen. Wagner has been impressive since camp began, runs with the first unit in practice and he should get considerable action while regular starter Jason Richardson recovers from knee surgery. The Warriors even cut veteran guard Devin Brown, in part, to make room for Wagner.
Remember Dajuan Wagner? Wagner was LeBron James before LeBron James. He was the high school legend from Camden, N.J., who scored 100 points in a game and had celebrities like Jay-Z and Allen Iverson hanging out at his games. He was a celebrity in high school, too; the leading scorer in New Jersey high school basketball history, the subject of Sports Illustrated features. He also had a catchy nickname, "The Messiah."
(James, if you remember is called "The Chosen One." What is it with these biblical monikers for basketball players? Earl Monroe, the Black Jesus. Moses Malone. But I digress.)
Wagner decided to play at Memphis for one year of seasoning before the Cleveland Cavaliers snatched him up, expecting the undersized combo guard to be a superstar, Iverson Lite. Wagner averaged 13.4 points as a rookie for Cleveland, but a series of injuries - knee surgery and colon troubles, which were originally diagnosed as a bladder infection -- cost him 109 games the next two seasons and he was released. He was out of the league for two years and the Cavaliers quickly found their future star in James.
The pain inside Wagner's abdomen robbed him of his game, his energy and his drive. Wagner had lost nearly 30 pounds before he was later diagnosed with colitis, an inflammation of the colon. He had his entire colon and rectum removed last year (He now has a modified digestive track using the lining of his small intestine).
A year later, Wagner - who signed a partially guaranteed contract with Golden State - has a good shot of sticking around under new/old Warriors Coach Don Nelson.
On a side note: What is it with the NBA unlucky lottery class of 2002? It's only been four years, but it seems like all of them are on the comeback trail. Wagner joins a list that includes Williams, Nikoloz Tskitishvili (a bust at No. 5, who is hoping to find employment with the New York Knicks), Nene (No. 7) and Amare Stoudemire (No. 9), the latter two are both coming back from knee surgery.

By Michael Lee  |  October 13, 2006; 3:59 PM ET
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