Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
One top-10 recruit’s eligibility issues on one national championship-capable roster typically wouldn’t feel like anything to work up a sweat over five months away from the start of the season. Chris Walker is one of the top players in the class of 2013. His addition arguably makes the Gators the most wholly-talented group Billy Donovan has coached since the 2006-07 national championship starting five. Florida would be better with him than without him. These things are all true, and they are all real. But academic eligibility issues like Walker’s – he still needs to complete three core courses and improve his ACT score before becoming eligible – usually (re: usually) tend to untangle themselves before the start of the season. It’s not like Walker attended high school classes that didn’t actually exist. And besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Walker is ruled ineligible for the non-conference season, only to enter Florida’s lineup around New Year’s for a repeat mashing of SEC competition? When you really bore down into what the Gators bring back, and who they welcome for the very first time, Walker’s possible ineligibility is less than crippling specter. More like a minor buzzkill in an otherwise tantalizingly positive summer season lead-up.
Viewed on its own merits, Walker’s situation is an annoyance. A tic slowly sucking the preseason optimism out of Florida fans. Nothing more and nothing less. This particular situation is different, because Walker’s ineligibility isn’t the only thing the Gators are anxiously tracking this offseason. There are other concerns, and when you add everything up and lop Walker’s prospective ineligibility on top, what once looked like one of the four or five best teams in the country in the rushed postseason Top 25 deluge has a fistful of questions to get past before season opening in November. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been suspended indefinitely by coach Billy Donovan for an unspecified violation of team rules one year after a similar punishment forced him to miss the first three games last season. We can only presume another brief multi-game absence, or some form of serious punishment, is in the offing. There’s also senior forward Patric Young, who underwent a procedure in April on his ankle, and whose game – frustratingly unrefined and only incrementally improved offensively – hinges heavily on his sheer athletic capability. Forward Will Yeguete likewise had his right knee scoped out one month later, the second such arthroscopic procedure in a four-month span.