By Jon Rothstein
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Take one look at Wally Judge and you’ll understand why he’s been hyped.
Take one look at Rutgers’ roster and you’ll understand why there’s eternal optimism for Judge putting on a Scarlet Knights uniform next season.
The addition of the 6-foot-9, 245 pound Judge immediately gives Rutgers coach Mike Rice something he’s desperately lacked during his first two years in Piscataway — a devastating post presence on both sides of the floor. A former McDonald’s All-American, Judge played two years at Kansas State before transferring to Rutgers nearly 12 months ago. He was a starter on the 2010 Wildcats team that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Butler.
“There’s a physicality and an athleticism that he brings that we haven’t had,” Rice said of Judge, who averaged 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in approximately 13 minutes per game in two seasons at Kansas State. “There’s going to be some rust but Wally’s going to match up favorably with most people he goes up against. When you’re building a program that hasn’t been successful, you need one to two high level transfers. That’s what we have in Wally. He’s grown so much since his last year at Kansas State. It’s almost like dealing with a different person.”
Despite the loss of veteran forward Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to Rhode Island, the unit of Judge, 6-foot-9 sophomore power forward Kadeem Jack, and 6-foot-6 senior wing Dane Miller, should give Rutgers one one of the more athletic front lines in the entire Big East. Miller led the conference in offensive rebounding during the last month of the 2012-13 season. Sophomore big men Greg Lewis and Derrick Randall will also push for minutes up front along with senior center Austin Johnson.
Rice is also high on junior college transfer Vincent Garrett, a 6-foot-6 forward to be a heavy factor in the front court rotation.
“What I like about him (Garrett) is he’s another mature, older kid,” Rice said. “I love the fact that my guys have all played 28 minutes a game in the Big East. I love the fact that my guards — Jerome Seagears, Myles Mack, and Eli Carter are all battle tested now. They’ve been through the rigors of this conference.”
And for much of last season, that wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Despite monumental victories over NCAA Tournament teams in UCONN, Florida, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame, Rutgers dealt with growing pains throughout Rice’s second season. For a coach who won 73 games in three seasons at Robert Morris during his first tenure in charge of a collegiate program, the losing took its toll.
“It was challenging,” Rice said of the 14-18 season. “Nothing can prepare you for the ups and downs. I didn’t know we’d be as inconsistent as we were last year. You want to push and push harder every day as a coach but you learn after a while that you can’t keep doing that. You have a take a step back sometimes. I learned that last year. We never comfortable in chaos last year.”
There’s a good chance that will change next season. The triumvirate of Seagears, Mack, and Carter should be as good as any back court trio in the Big East, especially if the underrated Seagears continues to blossom. In the Scarlet Knights final 15 games last year, Seagears committed two turnovers or less twelve times.
“He’s the gas in our engine,” Rice said of Seagears. “Our engine doesn’t run without Jerome.”
Mack meanwhile is still “very much” in play for a starting role next season according to Rice despite excelling coming off the bench last season a sixth man, averaging 9.8 points per game in just under 27 minutes of regular action.
Carter figures to be one of the better scorers in the league as a sophomore after a breakout freshman season and should potentially form a potent inside-outside combination with Judge. The 6-foot-1 combo guard erupted for 31 points in the upset victory over Florida and should improve on his average of 13.8 points per game.
“He has a relentlessness about himself to be one of the best guards in the Big East,” Rice said of Carter.
Valuable reserve Mike Poole is also back, giving Rutgers a legitimate 12 man roster where almost anyone can contribute.
“They’re all very close in terms of competing for minutes,” Rice said. “It’s going to be make for some great practices. The competition for playing time and starting roles should be tremendous. I always have the same goals. We’re going to improve every day and we’ve already improved tremendously in spring workouts. It’s all about and it’s always been about the postseason. To do that we have to do something hasn’t been done at Rutgers —- have a winning record in the Big East. Is that realistic? We have a better chance of achieving that than we did last year.”
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