Kansas State's Wally Judge understands that his college choice could open himself up to unfair comparisons.
Judge, a 6-foot-9 forward, plays the same position as Michael Beasley. He comes from the same AAU program as Beasley. Now he's going to the same school as Beasley.
But it would be quite a stretch to assume Judge will make the same kind of impact as Beasley, who delivered one of the greatest freshman seasons in history before going to the Miami Heat with the second pick in the 2008 NBA draft.
Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in 2007-08, his lone season at K-State. If Judge delivers merely half that production, he will have put together a fine season. But that isn't going to stop people from drawing parallels between the five-star prospects.
"I hope that he just tries to be Wally," said Rex Morgan, who coached Judge the past two years at Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day. "It's not fair at all to compare him to Mike."
It might not be fair, but it's likely inevitable. And for the record, Judge isn't exactly running from the comparisons.
"I've heard the comparisons a lot because they always come up, but there's no pressure," Judge said. "I just have to play as I play, and hopefully one day I can be mentioned in the same breath as him and [former Texas freshman phenom] Kevin Durant. But I want to build my own legacy and not live in anybody's shadow."
The comparisons actually might stop as soon as Kansas State fans get a closer look at Judge.
On the surface, Judge and Beasley might have plenty of similarities. On the floor, they're different types of performers. Beasley was a physical player who used his brute strength to dominate. Judge relies much more on his speed and needs to add strength.
Judge arrives at Kansas State as the No. 18 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. Beasley was the No. 1 prospect in the star-studded 2007 class, in which five of the top six players (Beasley, Indiana's Eric Gordon, Memphis' Derrick Rose, USC's O.J. Mayo and UCLA's Kevin Love) were one-and-done lottery picks.
"I know they have the same AAU program and they're both going to Kansas State, but Wally's a little bit different player than [Beasley]," Morgan said. "Mike was probably as skilled an offensive player as anyone I've seen coming into college, or he's right there with Kevin Durant. I saw games where he was completely unstoppable with the Heat.
"Wally just has to be Wally. He's just got to do the things that he does and not the things he can't do."
D.C. to Manhattan
Incoming freshmen Wally Judge and Rodney McGruder join a long line of Kansas State players who played for the AAU D.C. Assault team. K-State assistant Dalonte Hill coached the D.C. Assault from 2001-03. Here's a look at the D.C. Assault alumni currently on Kansas State's roster, along with their 2008-09 statistics.
If Judge worried about the pressure of these types of comparisons, he could have saved himself a lot of trouble by signing elsewhere. He instead liked K-State so much that he committed to the Wildcats in the fall of 2007 as a high school junior – and his choice of schools wasn't exactly a stunner.
Judge grew up in Washington, D.C., and played for the D.C. Assault, the AAU team whose alums include Beasley, former Kansas State forward Ron Anderson and current Wildcats players Jamar Samuels and Dominique Sutton. K-State assistant Dalonte Hill coached the D.C. Assault from 2001-03. Judge is part of a signing class that includes 6-4 shooting guard Rodney McGruder, his close friend and high school teammate.
"Me and Rodney have been tight ever since we were 14 or 15 years old," Judge said. "Being around somebody that long, you just get that brotherly bond."
Even though he grew up in a big city, Judge liked the small-town feel of Manhattan, Kan., and a conversation with Beasley made him feel even better about the idea of playing for the Wildcats.
"He's told me that it's a great town and everybody loves you," Judge said. "It's not a case where if you come in as a high recruit and don't live up to the hype, they fall out of love with you. They're going to love you regardless."
That's easy for Beasley to say. He more than lived up to the hype. Judge isn't quite as highly touted as Beasley, but he still comes in amid plenty of expectations.
Kansas State returns four starters from the team that went 22-12 last season. Judge's addition could help the Wildcats earn the NCAA tournament bid that eluded them last season.
"Wally runs like the wind," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "He is big and strong – just a big-time talent that we think has an incredible future ahead of him. He's a workaholic. He is somebody that just continues to strive to improve and get better on a daily basis."
Judge showed his willingness to improve by leaving D.C. before his junior year to transfer to Arlington Country Day, a prep basketball power that plays a national schedule.
Judge averaged 20.1 points, 17.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks and shot an astounding 65 percent last season while helping Arlington Country Day win its fifth consecutive Class 2A state championship.
"Wally has his own style," Morgan said. "He changes ends as well as anybody, runs the floor, knocks down the mid-range jump shot and is very good when he faces the basket in the post. He's just an outstanding rebounder. He doesn't wait for the ball to come to him. He goes from one side to the other to get it. That's the key with him.
"If he can get up there where he averages 10-11 rebounds a game, it would be a big, big help for Kansas State in the Big 12. The points will come. It's the rebounding that he has to continue to do at a high level."
Judge's relative lack of bulk could prevent him from rebounding as effectively in college as he did in high school. Morgan indicated Judge weighed 230 pounds at the end of Arlington Country Day's season, but he now is up to 240.
Even at that weight, Judge remains smaller and lighter than many other Big 12 power forwards. Of course, he's also faster than most of the guys he will be battling.
"It kind of negates somebody who's a little bigger, a little older and a little stronger than you if you can beat them up and down the floor," Morgan said.
Playing at Arlington Country Day made Judge a better basketball player, and the move also helped prepare him for other aspects of the college experience. Although he stayed with an uncle in Jacksonville, Judge was away from most of his family and friends. He probably won't have to deal with homesickness as much as the typical freshman.
"It helped a lot," Judge said. "I've kind of been on my own for a little while now. Going to Jacksonville was a growing-up thing. You learn how to handle your business. It prepared me a lot."
And it should help prepare him for the inevitable comparisons to Beasley.
"It's never pressure," Judge insisted. "I'm going to have to make my own legacy and not just live up to his."