MANHATTAN — When Wally Judge signed with Kansas State last year, expectations were high.
The 6-foot-9 power forward was a McDonald's All-American, the fourth Wildcat to earn that honor, and played for the same DC Assault AAU team as former K-State star Michael Beasley.
Many made comparisons between the two, and Judge was viewed as the jewel of his recruiting class.
Thirteen games into his college career, though, the freshman is fighting just to get on the floor. Judge has started five games, but is averaging 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds while playing fewer than 14 minutes per game.
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Not exactly the output of his pal John Wall, the freshman point guard who is being universally praised at Kentucky.
But that doesn't frustrate Judge. Not even close.
"Each person in this life has their own road to travel," Judge said. "You can't compare your road of travel to someone else's, even though at times you might look at it and think 'Boy, I've gotta play better.' "
Judge says he's carried that attitude with him since he arrived in Manhattan.
It wasn't until after his sophomore year of high school that he started getting noticed by most college coaches, and it took a considerable amount of hard work to get to that point. He figures it could be the same way at K-State.
"It was great to have the accolades, but at every level you step up," Judge said. "I had to earn my stripes just like in high school."
If that mindset needed any affirmation, he received it the first time he practiced alongside freshman teammate Martavious Irving.
When they took the court together, Judge said he saw a player so energetic and impressive that he reminded him of Dwyane Wade.
That was a surprise for Judge, who said he knew nothing of Irving before that moment. When he first heard Irving was coming to K-State, Judge said he tried to look up Irving on the Internet and found almost nothing about him. He looked like a typical three-star recruit.
"But when we got here and I saw him play for the first time," Judge said, "I was like, 'Wow.' "
That moment told Judge something about college basketball. It doesn't matter how highly touted you were in high school. What matters is what you do on campus.
To that end, his work ethic has improved as the season has gone along. Following home games, he often walks back out onto the court and practices his jump shot for another hour. And he's always trying to learn.
"When I came to college, I had no expectations," Judge said. "I was just expecting to come in and learn from a coach like Frank Martin."
That attitude has helped his game. His 15 points and seven rebounds were a big reason K-State defeated Alabama this season, and Martin insists Judge will be relied on throughout the Big 12 season.
Are his numbers underwhelming at this point? Perhaps. But Martin believes that is to be expected with most freshmen — even former All-Americans.
"He didn't choose us because it was going to be easy," Martin said. "He chose us because he knew that we would coach him and try to make him a better player."
That is not the typical path for McDonald's All-Americans. But it is the path for Judge.
"A lot of people have made it hard for him, because they wanted him to fill Mike Beasley's shoes," Irving said. "He's done a good job of being Wally Judge so far."