With the No. 25 pick in this year’s NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers selected third-year big man Moe Wagner out of the University of Michigan, and the team is hoping he can be their next late-first round gem.
At the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League tournament in July, Wagner showed he has the all the tools to be the modern, floor-spacing center the Lakers are looking for, but just as fans were starting to enjoy his intense and energetic style of play, he suffered an injury to his left knee. He has been sidelined ever since and will miss all of the preseason with what the training staff is calling a knee contusion.
Luckily, Silver Screen and Roll had the chance to catch up with Moe to talk about the highly anticipated release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, available in stores everywhere Oct. 12, as well as life as a rookie, LeBron James and his expectations for the season.
To no surprise, the 21-year-old was in good spirits and was eager to talk about his new team.
A few of your teammates are big video game guys, with Josh Hart being the most obvious one. Are you all that into playing video games during your free time?
Wagner: To be honest, not really, no. I do it every once in a while, but I’m not the biggest gamer. There are definitely people that can say that have beat me at something on the Playstation or whatever. Definitely not undefeated.
So you can say with absolute confidence Josh Hart is better than is better than you at video games?
Wagner: Yes ... J. Hart is definitely better than me at video games.
The first Call of Duty: Black Ops was released in 2010, when you were 13 years old. Were you big on COD growing up?
Wagner: No, my Call of Duty history is more through college. It reminds me a lot of college. I have a lot of memories playing Call of Duty with my friends. It was kind of a getaway, a good way to connect with my homies … Actually, my entire college career that’s what I was doing.
If you could choose anyone to squad up with on COD, who would it be?
Wagner: Probably my roommates from last year, Duncan Robsinon and my two other roommates. I’m not going to say their names because nobody knows them.
It’s no secret that you’re a pretty expressive and emotional guy on the court. Are you the same way with other things like video games?
Wagner: You don’t want to be around me. I curse a lot playing video games and all that stuff. I’m a very emotional guy. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad so I just try to find a happy medium, but so far it’s been good to me.
Can you think of a time on or off the court those emotions got you into trouble?
Wagner: On the court, all the time. I remember getting a technical foul in the national championship game, getting a technical foul at Michigan State my sophomore year. Just those types of things, they have to do with my emotions, obviously.
Off the court, let’s just say I’m not shy about arguing with people so sometimes that gets me into weird situations with my friends. I’m very outgoing, let’s just put it that way.
In your three years at the University of Michigan, you established yourself as the heart and soul of the team because of your infectious energy. Do you think it’s going to be more difficult to do that as a rookie on a veteran heavy team this season?
Wagner: It’s an interesting role, to be honest with you because I’ve never been the youngest guy. I’ve always been one of the youngest but I’ve never been the youngest guy on the team that everyone has to take care of, or I haven’t been in a really long time. I wasn’t in college. It’s definitely different, especially the quality of players around me but it’s very exciting. It’s a perfect situation for me to learn what to change and what to improve and it’s very valuable for a young guy like me to be around people like that.
One of those “quality players” will be none other than LeBron James. Do you expect your game to change at all playing alongside someone as skilled as he is?
Wagner: No. It’s not going to change, it’s going to improve. Yes, in some ways it’s going to change but I think it’s going improve more than anything. I can’t wait. It’s always great to be around greatness. I’m very excited to be in the position I’m in and obviously I can learn a lot from him. If there’s someone to teach you how to involve your teammates, that’s LeBron James.
Another teammate of yours this season is Isaac Bonga, who also grew up in Germany. Did you have a relationship with Bonga prior to coming into the league and if so, how has that relationship changed since?
Wagner: I never really knew Bonga. Bonga and I grew up in different parts of Berlin but I’m pretty excited to have a few Germans on the squad. he’s from a pretty different situation than me because Bonga is 18 years old, from Germany and he’s coming over here by himself. He’s doing what I did in college but on a much, much bigger stage and in a much, much bigger city. I’m just impressed and I still can’t believe it. I think though, he’s going to be a good one. He’s a hard worker and he’s very confident.
You’ve had to watch the preseason from the bench because of an injury you suffered at summer league in July but has that all helped you get a better idea of how you can help the team once you’re healthy?
Wagner: Of course, I’m always watching the games to try and study my teammates, try and look what we can do better, how I can help. I like basketball so it’s pretty for me to watch all that stuff and learn during practices. I’ve never slacked off, I always listen and try to understand everything so when I’m ready I can just jump right in … I take a lot of pride in that, trying to stay involved while I’m injured, and I know it’s going to pay off.
The center position has been a wide open battle at training camp and it’s expected to be that way going into the regular season. What will be the key to you getting playing time when you’re ready to go?
Wagner: I think the key for me is to stay solid defensively and be a good communicator ... don’t do crazy stuff out there, don’t dance or all these things, just stay solid. I think everything’s going to happen all right so I’m not really worried about that to be honest with you. It’s going to happen, but right now I’m just focused on getting healthy.