Florida to Get Boost from Addition of Chris WalkerPosted by David Changas on February 4th, 2014
It’s not often that a top-five team can add an elite recruit in February, but that is exactly what Florida will do tonight when highly-touted freshman Chris Walker finally makes his debut for the Gators. Walker, who was ranked seventh in the 247sports.com composite recruiting rankings last year, was declared academically eligible by the NCAA on December 14, and has been practicing but was not cleared for game action until last week. His suspension totaled 12 games, and was related to impermissible benefits from agents and AAU coaches. As a result, he will be forced to donate the $280 he received to charity and serve 80 hours of community service.
Florida currently sits at 19-2 overall and 8-0 in the SEC as it welcomes Missouri to the O’Connell Center for a Super Tuesday tilt. It is unlikely that head coach Billy Donovan will ask too much of Walker tonight, and with good reason. The Gators, currently ranked No. 3 in this week’s AP poll, have done quite well without him and Donovan may not want to disrupt the chemistry his front line has already developed. Florida’s senior-laden trio of Patric Young, Will Yuguete and Casey Prather, along with sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith, have led the Gators to a dominant SEC start, where their average margin of victory is north of 15 points per game. And Donovan has gone out of his way to make it clear not to expect too much from the ballyhooed freshman.
Still, while it is understandable that Donovan does not want to burden Walker with too many expectations, most teams would relish the opportunity to add an athletic, 6’10″ post presence this late in the season. Given what Florida returned, it is safe to assume that Walker would not have been asked to do too much this year even if he had been eligible from the outset. Donovan will likely limit his minutes and use Walker to primarily serve as depth and protection against foul trouble in the frontcourt. The fact that Florida adds Walker with 10 regular-season games remaining – and potentially three more in the SEC Tournament – will allow Donovan to determine if his role can be expanded — and given the nagging injury problems the Gators have experienced, a little extra depth can’t hurt. It also doesn’t hurt that Walker’s arrival coincides with a significant uptick in the difficulty of Florida’s schedule. After the Gators face NCAA Tournament contender Missouri tonight, they will have games with Tennessee and LSU — both of which are also fighting for their postseason lives — followed by two match-ups with Kentucky, where all that depth in the frontcourt will certainly come in handy.
The question of Walker’s eligibility has been hanging over the Gators program for months, and while it clearly hasn’t hindered Florida’s performance, Donovan will certainly be glad to not have to deal with that issue any more. Now he can focus on figuring out where Walker fits into the Gators’ on-court plans, and that’s a position of power that he’d much rather be in.