Louisville basketball hires Milt Wagner, grandfather of top 2023 recruit DJ Wagner

·4 min read

Louisville men's basketball has hired Milt Wagner, a former Cardinal who won the 1986 NCAA title alongside new head coach Kenny Payne, as a director of player development and alumni relations, the team announced Tuesday afternoon.

A report of Louisville hiring Wagner surfaced Tuesday morning from Ty Spalding of CardinalSports.com, and Wagner's new job title appeared when you search his name on the University of Louisville's online directory. Just after 1 p.m., U of L made the official announcement via Twitter.  Payne is expected to discuss the hire during a news conference at 3 p.m. Tuesday, the team said in a statement.

"This is Louisville basketball right here to my right," Payne said of his former teammate, the person with whom he shared his first meal on U of L's campus as a freshman, during an introductory news conference held Tuesday afternoon. "(I've been) fortunate enough to be able to be in a position, taking this job, I'm surrounding myself with not just people that I have had relationships with but that are the best of the best."

Wagner's grandson is top-ranked 2023 recruit DJ Wagner. Payne and the Cardinals have been locked in a battle for the 6-foot-3 guard from Camden, New Jersey, with Kentucky's John Calipari, who coached the five-star prospect's father, Dajuan, at Memphis from 2001-02.

Coinciding with his son's time at Memphis, Wagner was a member of Calipari's staff from 2000-06. He then served as an assistant at UTEP from 2006-10 and at Auburn from 2010-14.

Camden High School junior DJ Wagner is the 2022 South Jersey Boys Basketball Player of the Year.   DJ Wagner is the son of Dajuan Wagner and the grandson of Milt Wagner, both legendary Camden players who went on to play in the NBA.
Camden High School junior DJ Wagner is the 2022 South Jersey Boys Basketball Player of the Year. DJ Wagner is the son of Dajuan Wagner and the grandson of Milt Wagner, both legendary Camden players who went on to play in the NBA.

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It's unclear how Wagner's new position at Louisville will impact his grandson's recruitment. DJ Wagner, who will be in Louisville on Memorial Day weekend to play in a Nike-sponsored EYBL session, has not tipped his hand as to which school is leading the pack vying for his commitment. Speaking to the Indianapolis Star at the second EYBL session in April, the five-star prospect said he's "just enjoying the process."

"I’m interested in every college right now," he said when asked about his interest level in Louisville. "I’m still open to every school."

When asked about his grandson's recruitment Tuesday afternoon, Wagner said he wasn't "getting into that right now."

"This is just about me getting on the staff this year," he said. "This is about Milt Wagner being player development/alumni relations. We'll get into that part later on down the line, but right now this is about me being part of the University of Louisville."

It was also unclear heading into Payne's news conference how the hire may be impacted by NCAA bylaw 11.4.2. The measure prohibits schools from entering into "a contract for future employment with an individual associated with the prospective student-athlete in any athletics department noncoaching staff position or in a strength and conditioning staff position" two years before a student-athlete's arrival and two years after their enrollment.

Members of the Louisville Cardinals flash the No. 1 sign after they defeated Duke at Reunion Arena to win the NCAA Championship in 1986 From left are Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner, Kevin Walls, David Robinson and Kenny Payne.
Members of the Louisville Cardinals flash the No. 1 sign after they defeated Duke at Reunion Arena to win the NCAA Championship in 1986 From left are Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner, Kevin Walls, David Robinson and Kenny Payne.

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Payne was asked Tuesday about what the program had to go through to ensure hiring Wagner wouldn't impact its recruitment of his grandson. He directed reporters to John Carns, Louisville's senior associate athletic director for compliance.

"I'm really not allowed to talk about recruiting, so I have to stay away from the recruiting piece of this," Payne said, "but John can answer that."

Milt Wagner played at Louisville from 1981-86, a run that saw the Cardinals reach three Final Fours and win a national title in 1986. He averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 4.2 assists during the Cardinals' championship season.

Milt Wagner enters the room where Kenny Payne will be announced as the new head coach of the Louisville basketball team at the KFC Yum Center.March 18, 2022
Milt Wagner enters the room where Kenny Payne will be announced as the new head coach of the Louisville basketball team at the KFC Yum Center.March 18, 2022

Wagner ranks sixth in Louisville basketball history with 1,834 career points. He's tied for second in program history with 144 game appearances and started the last 111 in which he played.

Wagner is taking over a position previously held by former Cardinal Reece Gaines, who according to the team will remain on staff in a video operations role. Payne said he envisions Wagner in this role to develop relationships with players off the court and share his life experiences with them.

"I'm excited about having Milt day to day with these guys sharing his life but also allowing them to open up to him and be able to share their life," Payne said.

"My position, I'm just not on the floor, but still I'm pretty much (going to) have the coach mindset," Wagner added. "I get to talk to the players, tell them what they need to be told, what they should be doing, things like that.

"I'm the middleman between Coach Payne and the players and just kind of helping them get through and be successful in what they're trying to do."

After leaving Louisville, Wagner was was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft. He was a member of the Los Angeles Lakes team that won the NBA championship in 1987-88

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville basketball hires Milt Wagner, grandfather of DJ Wagner