David Wagner: Talent Rides on Two Wheels

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KAMLOOPS, BC–He’s originally from High River, Alberta, and his whole family moved to Mooloolaba, Australia, on the Sunshine Coast (quite a change from Alberta!) when he was about four years old. As it turns out, David Wagner, a two-time Canadian Cadet Men’s National Team player and 2011 6’8″ post man, was a tennis player in Australia and it wasn’t until he was in grade 7 that he picked up a basketball. In fact, Wagner only tried out for the rep basketball team in his area in Australia because his mother had practically forced him into it, or at least provided convincing incentive.

“Well, I grew up playing tennis. I started playing basketball in grade 7… my Mom said she’d buy me the best Achieve Fitness exercise bike if I played for the rep team. I caved. So, I played for Maroochydore.”

Shortly after joining the rep team, Wagner was scouted for the Provincial team in Australia and played with them until he moved back to Canada for his freshman year of high school. Wagner moved to Kamloops, British Columbia, and has been attending South Kamloops (he will graduate this June), where he tried out for the Titans. This proved to be a different experience from his time in Australia because they had no high school basketball system, simply local club teams.

“I grew up playing for a city, in a premier league… and playing for a high school and having way more games was a pretty big change,” explained Wagner.

Wagner’s first season of high school basketball in Canada was at the AAA-level playing on a team with a future Gonzaga Bulldog (Kelly Olynyk) and a future SFU Clansmen (John Bantock). He adjusted well, though, starting for Coach Del Komarniski on the senior team as a freshman. A starting spot he held right up until the final game of his grade 12 year, which was a 68-36 loss at the hands of the Kelowna Owls (the 2nd-ranked team in BC at the time), in a game for the lone AAA Provincials’ berth out of the region. Besides learning a lot from Coach K, Wagner also gained a lot of knowledge from playing alongside Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk for two years.

“When I started playing with Kelly he was the first legitimate superstar that I was playing with. It was hard to keep up with him because he would give it to you in a spot when you didn’t know you were open and then he’d yell at you because you were supposed to be open. Yeah, I learned a lot from him, he taught me a lot.”

Not only has Wagner played with great players on his high school team, but he’s been on the U15, U16, and U17 Boys’ Provincial Teams in British Columbia, as well as playing for the U16 and then U17 Canadian Men’s Cadet National Team in the past two summers. He’s played alongside players such as Kevin Pangos and Duane Notice, in tournaments in the USA, Argentina, and Germany. Last summer, he helped the Cadet Men’s National Team to a third place finish at the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championships, stunning Lithuania in the Bronze Medal Game, 83-81.

He explains his international experience, “Oh, unreal. You can’t really compare the experience, playing with those guys you have to pick up your game so much to be competitive. I was lucky enough to make that team, and it was a hard transition going from the source of an offense on the Provincial Team and the high school team to being an absolute role player. You set screens and you rebound and let the other guys score. But it wasn’t hard. I didn’t take a hit from that. It was awesome.”

Wagner is British Columbia’s top prospect in 2011 and has aspirations to play for the Senior Men’s National Team in the future, but knows it will be more difficult to do as an increased interest in the national program has been sparked. This year Wagner hopes to get an invitation to tryout for the U19 Men’s National Team, but knows that it will be tough as he will have to compete for a spot against Canada’s finest.

“So this year, if I get invited to, I’ll be trying out for the under 19 National Team, which makes everyone kinda like a year-and-a-half older than me. And I gotta go up against guys who are going to prestigous schools and stuff, and guys who are coming back. Khem Birch, Kyle Wiltjer, all those guys.”

Wagner is a tad undersized in the post; therefore, he will have to expand his versatility, and continue to improve his perimeter game.

Finally, the all-important topic was probed: who has been recruiting him and where will he be playing next year? Wagner has seen interest from the University of San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, as well as other WCC schools. On this side of the border, he’s seen interest from UBC, TRU, TWU, the University of Western Canada, and so on. As for where this 6’8″ Cadet National Team member will be taking his talents next year, he’s pretty sure he is going to remain in Canada and play CIS basketball.

“Right now, it’s looking like UBC. I just gotta figure out a couple more things, and then I’ll make a final decision on that one, but right now it’s probably UBC.”

The UBC Thunderbirds are a CIS powerhouse and perennial CANWEST champion contender. The team is fresh off a bronze medal at the National Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Not a bad choice.

PHOTO COURTESY: Ron Hole

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