Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Wagner steps up, speaks up for Hogs
NWA Media/ANTHONY REYES -- Kikko Haydar (20) reaches in on red team's DeQuavious Wagner (23) during the first half of a scrimmage Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas freshman point guard Dee Wagner will open his college career against one of the two other teams to offer him a scholarship when the Razorbacks play Sam Houston State at 7 tonight in Walton Arena.
Wagner was voted Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball last season by the state’s sportswriters association when he averaged 20.2 points per game as a senior and led Alexandria Peabody Magnet to a 35-1 record and the Class 4A championship.
But the only scholarship offers for Wagner, an honor student with a 3.6 grade-point average, came from Arkansas, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin.
“A lot of big schools looked at Dee, but they were concerned by his size,” Peabody Magnet Coach Charles Smith said. “They were afraid he was too small.”
Wagner is listed at 5-10 and 176 pounds, but that didn’t scare off Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, who had no qualms about signing a player whose only other two offers came from Southland Conference schools. The stat that interested Anderson most about Wagner was Peabody Magnet’s 109-5 record in his three seasons as the team’s starting point guard.
“I can’t speak for everybody else, but I just saw a guy that’s a winner,” Anderson said. “He’s a character kid and he’s going to do the right thing on and off the floor and in the classroom. But more than that, he’s a winner and he’s a leader.
“Dee may be small in stature, but he’s got a big heart.”
Smith said he isn’t surprised Arkansas signed Wagner.
“Mike Anderson’s had a lot of success with small, quick point guards,” Smith said. “Dee fits Arkansas’ system with his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.”
Carldell “Squeaky” Johnson, 5-10, played point guard for Anderson at Alabama-Birmingham and helped the Blazers to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
At Missouri, Anderson signed 5-11 point guard Phil Pressey. Last season, Pressey averaged 10.3 points per game along with Big 12 Conference bests of 6.4 assists and 2.1 steals to help Missouri to a 30-5 record. Going into his junior year, Pressey was voted preseason SEC Player of the Year by members of the media.
Wagner said he is looking forward to playing big for Anderson, too.
“When I’m the court, I feel like everyone else is the same size as I am,” Wagner said. “I just go out there with the mind-set I’m going to attack them before they have a chance to do anything to me.”
Wagner, who had 13 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in the Razorbacks’ 111-45 exhibition victory over LeMoyne-Owen College on Monday night, said he’s excited to be at Arkansas, but he’s also motivated to show other schools they made a mistake by not offering him a scholarship.
“Coach Anderson was looking for a winner, and that’s who I am,” he said. “I just want to show that I can bring positive things to my team.”
Arkansas junior guard Rickey Scott said it’s hard to believe Arkansas was the only school from a major conference to offer Wagner.
“That does surprise me, because he can play,” Scott said. “I’m glad we’ve got him. He’s going to help us a lot. He’s shown me he’s aggressive on offense, he can pass, he can shoot, and he can get after it on defense, too.”
Anderson said Wagner “is going to do the things it takes to win” and that he “doesn’t mind being the bad guy” and speaking up to teammates when he believes it’s necessary.
“If I feel I need to say something, I will, but I never come at them in a negative way,” Wagner said. “I only come at them in a positive way.”
Scott said none of the players takes offense when Wagner becomes vocal.
“He’s a point guard, so he’s got to be able to talk and communicate with everybody,” Scott said. “If he’s quiet, it means he’s not doing his job.”
Smith wasn’t surprised to hear Wagner already is taking on a leadership role with the Razorbacks.
“Dee was an extension of me on the floor when he was here,” Smith said. “He always knew not only what he needed to do, but what everyone else was supposed to do, too. He did a great job of getting everyone to the right spot.”
Smith said he has no doubt Wagner is in the right spot at Arkansas.
“Dee’s going to have success there and help Arkansas win a lot of games,” Smith said. “He’s all about winning.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/09/2012