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Thursday / March 23.
  • Rutgers’ Judge Following in Footsteps of Durant & Beasley, But Making a Name for Himself

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    PISCATAWAY, N.J. — David Cox remembers first seeing Wally Judge play basketball when the young man was 13 or 14.

    At first he didn’t understand all the hype and the comparisons to fellow Prince George’s County (Md.) natives Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley.

    “Me seeing him early, to be honest with you, I couldn’t see it at the time,” Cox, the former DC Assault coach and current associate head coach at Rutgers, told Wednesday at Rutgers Media Day.

    “By the end of his ninth grade year [at Bladensburg High School in Washington, D.C.] he started to fill out just a little bit. His  coordination started to catch up with his size and  his athleticism, you could start to see the spark.”

    The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Judge, now 21 and a junior at Rutgers, has been living in the shadow of Durant and Beasley since he was a young teenager.

    “I’ve heard the comparisons just because they’re guys from my area, they’re guys I’ve grown up with, they’re guys I’ve played against,” Judge said.

    “A lot of people used to say I looked like Kevin, and then coming up through the DC Assault program a lot of people wanted me to play like Mike.”

    Judge transferred to Arlington Country Day (Fla.) after two seasons at Bladensburg and evolved into a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American.

    But the pressure to become like Durant, a No. 2 draft pick who’s now a three-time NBA scoring champ and an Olympic gold medal winner, and Beasley, also a former No. 2 pick, was overwhelming at times.

    “It kind of made me grow up faster, but in a way that I didn’t want to be, in a way where I just felt pressure all the time, and I felt like I had to be Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant and those who came before me,” Judge said.

    Rutgers coach Mike Rice said that because Judge is such a thoughtful and intelligent guy, those pressures were “tough to deal with.”

    “Wally takes everything to heart [because] he’s so deep-thinking,” Rice said. “It would be better if he was a flake and didn’t think about anything and all he cared about was himself. He’s not that type of a person.”

    When it came time to pick a college, Judge visited Beasley at Kansas State during Beasley’s lone year on campus. He ultimately decided to follow in Beasley’s footsteps again by attending K-State.

    “He never pushed me towards K-State, he just told me what he liked about it,” Judge said. “I saw his success there and I figured I could have the same.”

    But things didn’t work out there under former coach Frank Martin, and Judge left the school in January 2011. He chose Rutgers in part because of his “personal relationship” with Cox, and also because he wanted his mother, Rosemary Yorn, to be able to see him play closer to home.

    Rice and Judge both say that spending last year as a redshirt at Rutgers — and not having to play games or live up to anyone’s lofty expectations — did a world of good for him.

    “In this past year, this sit-out year, I’ve learned that you can’t judge yourself on anyone else’s success, you can only improve on what you can do,” Judge said.

    In his time in the gym, Judge has added a right and lefty hook shot to his already potent face-up game.

    “That’s going to make him a lot of money,” Cox said.

    Said Rice: “He realized how good he was when he wasn’t so stressed about being an All-American or being a first-round draft choice every possession. You can shoot an air ball, you can miss a free throw, you can miss a layup, somebody can dunk on you. That’s OK.”

    Judge remains in touch with Beasley and Durant and uses them as touchstones.

    “I still talk to those guys and they wish the best for me and they just tell me they want to see me successful and it means a lot to me coming from two guys who’ve done what they’ve done,” Judge said. “And that has made me more comfortable knowing that I got guys who were NBA All-Stars and second picks overall who believe in me.”

    In fact, Beasley, now with the Phoenix Suns, came to Rutgers this summer and talked with Judge and played him in one-and-one.

    “I played great defense,” Judge said with a smile. “He’s still an awesome talent. He’s hard to guard.”

    Said Cox: “I think that helped his confidence and Mike complimented him on his growth and his development and his maturity so I think that kind of propelled him into his summer league play, which was pretty steady.”

    Judge said he also was in touch with Durant when he was working for Nike in China.

    “He just asked me how was I doing and was I focused and was I working, and that’s what motivated every night to come in the gym,” Judge said. “To know that those guys have belief in me and that someday I want to be where they’re at.”

    Rice said Judge has the same type of athletic talent as Durant and Beasley.

    “Physically, athletically, he has that talent,” he said. “Even basketball-wise, you’ll see him at times. It’s just how you respond and the pressure he puts upon himself is something he has to learn how to control. I’m certainly not going to put that pressure on him.”

    Cox believes Judge could have a pro career ahead of him, even if he’s not Durant or Beasley.

    “Will he ever attain that, I don’t think so,” Cox said. “But could he play in the league for 8-10 years. Maybe he continues to develop and mature. Yes, absolutely.”

    In the end, Wally Judge is now just trying to be himself, not Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant.

    “As I’ve grown and matured I’ve realized I can only be myself,” Judge said. “Those guys are two great talents that you would love to be compared to, but at the end of the day I have to be Wally Judge.”


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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.