If it isn’t bad news, it’s no news for Kansas State’s basketball team.
Wally Judge, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who was one of the nation’s top high school recruits in 2009, has decided to leave the Wildcats’ program. Coach Frank Martin made the announcement during his Monday news conference, saying that Judge told him he wasn’t having fun and thought it was time to try something different.
Losing isn’t fun and K-State has been doing more of that than expected this season. At 2-5 in the Big 12 and coming off a disappointing 90-66 loss at Kansas on Saturday night, the Wildcats have been one of the country’s biggest disappointments after being ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll.
Judge came to Kansas State from Arlington Day High School in Jacksonville, Fla., and played during the summer with the DC Assault, one of the country’s top AAU programs out of Washington, D.C. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 18 high school prospect in the country and he drew obvious comparisons to Michael Beasley, another DC Assault alum who helped put Kansas State back on the basketball map during his one season with the Wildcats in 2007-08.
The Assault has been a great recruiting pipeline for K-State thanks to Wildcats assistant coach Delonte Hill, who coached the Assault from 2001-03 and has continued to use his strong AAU connections. But two other Assault alums, Dominique Sutton and Ron Anderson, have transferred from Kansas State. Two others, junior forward Jamar Samuels and sophomore guard Rodney McGruder, also played for the Assault.
McGruder and Judge were summer teammates for three seasons and are close friends. It’s logical to wonder what McGruder must be thinking as his buddy departs.
It’s logical to wonder what all of Kansas State’s players think. And it’s also logical to wonder how much Martin’s intense behavior has to do with these defections and the struggles of the team.
Martin deserves all the credit heaped upon him for last season’s run to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats were one of the most exciting teams in the country on both ends of the floor. That team looked like it fed off of Martin’s abundance of emotion.
This one doesn’t and never has.
The disparity between Martin’s howling and growling on the sideline and the Wildcats’ sleepy, lackluster play is palpable. The coach has not been able to get his team to even approach its potential, never mind reach it.
I only interviewed Judge a couple of times, but he seemed like a real down-to-earth kid. Remember, he missed a few games earlier this season for what Martin said were personal reasons, so it’s possible that those have never been resolved and that Judge is leaving for reasons that have nothing to do with Martin.
Still, don’t you wonder what’s going on behind closed doors with this team?
Judge’s departure makes an already think front line even skinner. Samuels, senior Curtis Kelly and sophomore Jordan Henriquez-Roberts are the only big guys remaining. And Kelly has been in and out of Martin’s doghouse all season. Against Kansas, Kelly had a miserable first half and spent much of the end of the half and the entire second half on the bench. He has not gained traction at all after a promising junior season that led to him being named to the All-Big 12 preseason team.
Samuels has been inconsistent, too. And Henriquez-Roberts just isn’t ready to be a Big 12 contributor yet.
It’s always something with this team. The volatility of the season has been the story of the season.
Judge played only 17 games and made 11 starts. He averaged only 15.2 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. From a statistical standpoint, his loss isn’t devastating.
From an emotional standpoint, we’ll see. Judge arrived at Kansas State as a “can’t miss” recruit. I remember where I was when I found out Judge had made a commitment to the Wildcats, that’s how big of a deal it was. I don’t know of anyone who thought he would be another Beasley, those players just don’t come along very often.
But everybody thought that getting Judge to come to K-State was another recruiting coup for the Wildcats, more evidence that the DC Assault pipeline might never dry up.
Losing Judge hurts a program that has suffered all season in its public relations. With each bit of bad news, more questions surface. Can Martin pull things together? Are there big problems inside the program? Is Martin sick of his players and are his players sick of him?
Some of this represents the natural fall-out from not meeting expectations. Things are tense in Manhattan, no doubt about it. If ever a team needed to lighten the mood, this is that team. Unfortunately, a light mood is unthinkable at the moment.