By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - You're 20 years of age and half-way across America from your Washington D.C., home. The semester is racing toward final exams, and the leather ball isn't finding its way into the center of that orange circle of a basket.
As Wally Judge says of himself, "I lost my way. It was a self thing. No one can push you harder than you push yourself. A lot of times being your biggest critic can be bad for you. It can weigh you down."
Judge had scored just 30 points in K-State's first five games to go with 17 rebounds. It wasn't the type of start to his sophomore year that he had in mind.
Coach Frank Martin called it "...a period in your life when you're not very happy with something. He went through some moments when he wasn't sure what he was doing. He had to take a step back and regain himself.
"It wasn't a case of Wally waking up one day and thinking he didn't want to be at K-State, but he was just going through some difficult times and needed to refocus," said Martin.
Judge did not play in three of the next four games, and then just two minutes against Florida and 15 minutes against UNLV.
Since then, as Judge explains, "I got myself back. I'm in my own corner and plan to do better than I've ever done before."
Here are the games Judge has most recently played in:
• UMKC - 25 minutes, a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, with nine of those being offensive boards.
• North Florida - 30 minutes, 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 10-of-13 from the line, plus nine rebounds.
• Savannah State - 27 minutes, another double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds.
"I have a little swagger now," said Judge of his recent play. "I feel like I'm back at high school. I'm thinking better and the coaches are doing a great job of educating me."
It was in high school that Judge earned McDonald's All-American status while playing for Arlington Country Day Prep School in Jacksonville, Fla. They were also years that he teamed with Michael Beasley, Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels on the D.C. Assault AAU team.
Now, Judge wants his consistency of play to return to those days. He currently has a three-game roll, but he knows those 49 points and 34 rebounds came against three mid-major schools, and not opponents like Oklahoma State coming up on Saturday afternoon in Stillwater.
"No offense to our opponents in the last few games, but I know that the Big 12 will be a lot harder," said Judge, who is now averaging 6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. "The players will be of a higher caliber, but I'm looking forward to keeping my streak going. You're always trying to prove yourself. You have to show up ready to compete in every game. Early in the season, I just became unsure in what I could do."
Looking back, Martin's decision to give Judge a chance to refocus appears to be the right thing.
"As a human being, it's great to see him finding success and enjoying himself," said Martin of his 6-foot-9 talent. "He's played the best stretch of basketball, including practice, that he's played in his time here.
"Grown men go through what he went through and don't recover sometimes," said Martin. "For a child to go through what he was going through and be able to regain his focus in such a short period of time, and find that youthful enthusiasm that he's playing with right now, that means a lot. I hope he continues because he's earned it by the way he's handled himself. Everyone had to be involved and put their arms around Wally to allow him to move forward. The time off allowed him to regain his emotions, his vision, and allow himself to feel good about playing again.
"He's playing with an enthusiasm that is fun to watch," Martin said.
Kelly to Sit Two More Games
Martin called the practice play of Curtis Kelly "good" since his return from the Christmas break.
With tongue in cheek, he added, "He's been quiet, so that's good."
Kelly's suspension continues through Saturday's game with Oklahoma State and Wednesday's game with Colorado before his return one week from Saturday against Texas Tech.
Overall, Martin said of the suspensions of Jacob Pullen and Kelly, "When we lost those two seniors, you saw our team step up collectively. When you go into a 16-game (Big 12) season, you need every single guy to be on board and ready to go. When they're number is called, they need to provide some type of positive moment to help us find success."