Just weeks ago, not much was expected from Wally Judge.
The sophomore forward didn't dress for the game at Loyola-Chicago on Dec. 11, and the following day Kansas State said he was out indefinitely with undisclosed "personal issues.
Coach Frank Martin offered no timetable for his return.
But as No. 17 K-State prepares to take on North Florida today at Bramlage Coliseum, Judge is expected to be in the starting lineup for the second straight game.
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Martin used him from the get-go last time out against UMKC, and he played strong inside with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Not bad for a guy who is averaging 4.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and was demoted to the bench after starting the first six games.
He still needs to improve his shooting — Judge was 6 for 18 against UMKC — but Martin said that will come with time.
“I could not be happier for him,” Martin said after the game. “I don’t care if he would have been 0 for 56 from the field. Just to see him play with the energy and enthusiasm and with the courage to take the shots.... That made my night. He put the Christmas spirit in me.”
How did Judge, a former high school All-American, go from obscurity to praise so quickly?
It's hard to say without knowing the full scope of the issues that sidelined him, but teammates say they reached out to him when he was in a weak mental state.
"We were just there for him," sophomore Rodney McGruder said. "We told him if he needed anyone to talk to, and if he has a problem, don't keep it bottled inside. Just talk about it. It's more painful keeping your emotions bottled up rather than talking to someone and expressing your feelings."
Judge has not spoken with the media since his return to action. Unlike a few weeks ago, there's nothing holding him back.
"I believe now he has that swagger back about himself," McGruder said. "He's a great player and he can be unstoppable in the post. That's all that was missing. He needed a game like (UMKC) for him to step up."