Posted January 29, 2014

Already-elite Gators get big boost as NCAA clears freshman Walker

Florida, Kentucky, SEC
Chris Walker

Chris Walker was a McDonald’s All-American and a top ten recruit, but he has yet to play for Florida. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

On Feb. 4, Chris Walker will be cleared to play for Florida at long last, and the good news is Florida doesn’t need him. It most certainly can use him, this 6-foot-10 five-star prospect sidelined all year, but it can use him in the way that a nearly flawless pile of risotto can use the imported black truffle flakes shaved on top of it.

The Gators have won 11 straight and were a Final Four contender before the NCAA officially announced Walker was cleared after serving a 12-game penalty for receiving preferential treatment from five people, including two agents. The up-and-down season at Kentucky suggested Florida was the most reliably elite team in the SEC, and a defense ranked No. 10 nationally in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency rankings suggested they were formidable no matter where they played.

Florida has lost two games all season despite injuries to just about everyone, most notably leading scorer Casey Prather. Because of the adversity they’ve already overcome, the Gators seem fully formed before the No. 6 recruit in the Class of 2013 became eligible to play.

“I think right now, our guys appear to be in a good place,” coach Billy Donovan said at a news conference Monday. “But for me, it’s all about our guys trying to get better and improve.”

How much improvement will Walker need? At the moment everyone has to take Donovan’s word for it, and he doesn’t even know. Walker apparently showed up weighing about 203 pounds and added seven to 10 to that. Donovan said Walker is “more prepared” than he was a couple weeks ago, walking into a team with 60 offensive sets, of which he knew zero.

But Donovan said he doesn’t know how ready Walker is or how many minutes he can offer immediately.

“My biggest fear for Chris is you have a highly exposed player and sometimes when a guy isn’t playing, the ‘legend of Chris Walker’ grows greater than who he really is,” Donovan said. “Chris Walker now is, ‘Oh my, this guy is going to end up being Kevin Garnett,’ and he’s not that. And I think whenever he gets able to play, if that’s their expectation of Chris Walker they’re going to be very, very disappointed because he’s not that.

“I hope there is at least a level of understanding in terms of how much he’s missed, and if anybody is expecting him to be savior it would really be unfair. He’s got a lot of growing to do. He’s got a lot of physical growing, mental growing, he’s got to understand the college game a lot more. There’s so much that’s in front of him to get better at and I just hope people will not look at it and say, ‘Wow, I was expecting something different.’”

According to the NCAA release, Walker “accepted free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel” as a prospect. He is required to donate the $270 he received from agents to charity and do 80 hours of community service. So that’s about what Chris Walker took.

Now it’s about what he can offer. And he offers Florida depth and a potential impact player contributing to an already elite team. That’s good news.

But he might not offer much, either. So the better news is that Florida was fine without him, too.

6 comments
TheBalls
TheBalls

ha!  It is okay to be a cheat if you are winning!  11 games for receiving benefits from 5 people?  Really?

j15eff
j15eff

Go Gators! He will probably get hurt now like everyone on the football team

dancluley
dancluley

Go Gators!  Get him some meaningful minutes in the rest of the SEC slate so that if our team needs him in the Tourney, we can count on him!

biasedsportsfan
biasedsportsfan

This post doesn't make much sense but I will address it anyway: the number 5 has nothing to do with his suspension, as you seem to imply it does. it's the benefits received, not "benefits received x # of people" that determines suspensions like this. And... he hasn't won anything. Hasn't even played. Therefore you just don't make any sense at all.