Judge finds ?solace on court after layoff

<p>Junior forward Wally Judge looks upcourt Sunday in the Knights’ exhibition win against Holy Family. Judge spent his teenage years hearing comparisons to other D.C.-area talents, like No. 2 overall NBA?Draft picks Michael?Beasley and Kevin Durant. But Judge has come to terms with his own career path.</p>

Junior forward Wally Judge looks upcourt Sunday in the Knights’ exhibition win against Holy Family. Judge spent his teenage years hearing comparisons to other D.C.-area talents, like No. 2 overall NBA?Draft picks Michael?Beasley and Kevin Durant. But Judge has come to terms with his own career path.

Wally Judge lumbers across the hardwood at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. It is late — really late. But it always is when Judge pays visits, which have grown in frequency since he joined the Rutgers men’s basketball team May 9.

Maybe it is Judge’s relationship with assistant David Cox, who Judge reveres as almost family. Maybe it is his desire to sustain the glimpses that made him a 2009 McDonald’s All-American.

Or maybe Judge is finally at peace.

“I treated the RAC,” Judge said, “like my sanctuary.”

He demanded keys to the place after less than two weeks with the program. Cox calls Judge the team’s hardest worker — “And we have some workers,” Cox said — working hours on end even though he has not played in a basketball game in more than a year and a half.

He spent time in the Louis Brown Athletic Center during the summer, when the NCAA first allowed allotted time to Division-I coaches for scheduled workouts.

But arguably the most telling workout occurred when nearly no one was around.

Michael Beasley grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md., a Beltway town nearly a half hour from Judge’s native Washington, D.C. They played in the same famed D.C. Assault AAU program that Cox once coached.

Then Beasley committed to Kansas State as a senior at high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, and Judge followed suit the next year.

But after two years in Manhattan, Kan., Judge found himself in Piscataway, playing one-on-one with the player to which he drew comparisons since he was 15.

“I played great defense,” Judge said of the summer outing. “He’s still an awesome talent. He’s hard to guard.”

He was also hard to evade.

D.C.-area basketball gurus linked their futures, along with now-Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who called Maryland’s Seat Pleasant home. They told Judge he looked like Durant and that he should have played like Beasley with D.C. Assault.

He still followed one of them — Dalonte Hill, a D.C.-connected recruiter then at Kansas State — to Manhattan, where Beasley was ready to skirt for the NBA.

He was the second big man off the bench after Jamar Samuels, the Big 12’s Sixth Man of the Year, for the Wildcats in 2009 under head coach Frank Martin.

But personal troubles, a reported deteriorating relationship with Martin and distance issues plagued Judge’s sophomore season. He decided to transfer.

“You don’t see too many kids that big, that strong, that can run like he runs,” said Martin, now South Carolina’s head coach. “Connecting those moments, bring them closer together, that was our challenge.”

It now belongs to head coach Mike Rice.

Judge could play his way into elite company at Rutgers. Or he could not.

Rice said Judge enjoyed the best offseason — which for Judge spanned nearly two offseasons —of any player he ever coached.

Judge left Arlington County Day (Fla.) School the No. 18 prospect in the Class of 2009, according to Rivals.com. ESPNRise.com named him a first-team All-American. And he received an invitation to play in the Jordan Brand Classic, where he scored a team-high 18 points.

But none of that matters this night in the RAC.

Judge is alone. But for these few hours, he likes it.

“For the first time in his life, he didn’t have to be the high school All-American,” Rice said at the team’s Oct. 24 media day. “He didn’t have to be the McDonald’s All-American. He didn’t have to be the one-and-done type of player. When he allows himself to give himself a break and doesn’t put so much pressure, he’s remarkable.”

Part of the pressure came from home, where Judge’s mother, Rosemary Yorn, needed him nearby. But Cox, equal parts coach and confidante, helps ease it.

Cox spent 10 years in education, seven as assistant principal at his alma mater, St. John’s College (D.C.) High School. He coached Judge’s cousin, Raymond Brewer, on a different Assault age group.

And he was primarily responsible for Judge’s commitment to the Knights.

“One of the main things I was looking for when I was transferring was trust,” Judge said. “I needed someone to believe in, and he’s always been there for me, whether it was basketball or family.”

The two stayed in contact when Judge spent two forgettable years at Kansas State. When Judge does not mind company at the RAC, he will call up Cox on an off day, and they get to work.

They pore over Judge’s ball-handling, outside shooting and a newfound hook shot, courtesy of Cox’s three seasons as an assistant at Georgetown, where he once recruited Judge.

“He said that’s what’s going to make me have a longer career,” Judge said, “and that’s what’s going end up making me money some day.”

For now, Judge will settle for a return to the court — this time with all the lights on.

He has done his time — “I’ve waited my turn, so to speak,” he said — and watched behind others. He dealt with a bust label, a byproduct of not materializing quickly enough.

“As soon as somebody doesn’t perform at a level where people on the outside think they should be performing, they’re immediately cast out to be a failure,” Martin said. “With social media, kids can’t hide.”

Maybe that is why Judge spent so much time alone in the RAC, weeks before a season-opening tipoff tonight against St. Peter’s. Maybe it is his motivation to attack his game in different ways.

Or maybe for the first time, Judge is comfortable.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “I have to be Wally Judge.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.

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