NCAA finally frees Chris Walker: Why the waiting might not be the hardest part

Millions of sports fans around the world have been counting down the days to Super Bowl Sunday but Florida basketball fans have another far more important day marked on their calendar.

Chris Walker reachTuesday, February 4.

That’s the day freshman phenomenon Chris Walker will finally get to play in a Gator uniform.

Walker is the most highly touted recruit to hit Gainesville in years.  Sure, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green and Al Horford all had famous fathers but any Gator basketball fan that pulled up Chris Walker’s Mixtape highlights did backflips waiting to see what this guy would do when he finally hit campus.

Except they made us wait.

Walker was declared academically ineligible.  In addition to that, he illegally received “preferential treatment” from agents on a recruiting trip (not to Gainesville).  As a result, Donovan couldn’t play him until the NCAA cleared his name.  That has taken months with Florida and Donovan doing their due diligence so as not to risk any NCAA violations.  In the meantime, Walker attended class and sat on the sidelines while watching his teammates jump out a scorching 19-2 start, climbing all the way to third in the AP Poll.

I’m going to try my best not to sound like an absolute homer but this Gator team is undeniably a national championship contender.  They feature a healthy blend of youth and experience.  They are one of the best defensive teams in the nation.  They own the glass and play a very watchable brand of basketball.  Their only two losses this season came to a ranked Wisconsin team and to Connecticut on a last-second buzzer beater.  Both of those losses came on the road.

2014 Gators

Let the homer-ism continue.

The Gators are disciplined and deep.  They rebound well, they don’t turn the ball over, they play hard-nosed defense and they have a number of players that can create their own shot.  Florida’s last two national championship teams had evenly distributed scoring with all five starters averaging in double digits.  Similarly, this current team has five players scoring in double-digits.  Just the way Billy likes it.

So what does Donovan do now with Walker, a player who might just be the most talented guy on the roster but who hasn’t played a lick?  I’m sure any coach would love to be burdened with the problem of having another quality player but adding such a highly touted playmaker, a freshman mind you, into an already solid rotation could potentially upset the applecart.  Far be it from me to question the coaching decisions of a two-time national champion but playing Walker, which is something that every Gator fan wants to see (the Rowdy Reptiles have been wearing “Free Chris Walker” t-shirts for weeks) is something that Billy Donovan will have to manage… and manage carefully.

Free Chris Walker shirtsGiving Walker ten, twenty or thirty minutes means fewer minutes for other players who are already a part of this team’s rhythm.

So far this season, the Gators have been decimating conference opponents.   They beat Texas A&M by 33, Tennessee by 26 and Georgia by 22.  Even in close games, Florida never seems to lose control of tempo.  How will the addition of Walker affect this run?

Fortunately all indications point to the rest of the team encouraging the superfrosh’s return even more so than the fans, typical unselfishness of a Donovan-coached team.  Donovan has warned Gator fans not to expect the messiah when Walker finally gets his minutes.  That’s okay.  We’re not listening.

I met Coach Donovan at a pre-season fund-raiser once.  It was 1999, the year they went to the national championship game only to lose to Michigan State.  Incoming freshman Donnell Harvey brought much hype to a lineup that already featured Mike Miller, Matt Bonner and Udonis Haslem.  I asked Donovan whether Harvey was the real deal.  He looked at me jokingly, as if to say “Temper your expectations, young man.”  An unrefined Harvey declared for the draft after that season never to be heard from again.

Donovan is doing the same thing with the hype surrounding Walker.  He’s tempering our expectations.

Donovan will not kowtow to our pressures.  He will do what’s best for the team when it comes to integrating Walker into his rotation.  Gator fans should trust his judgment for if anyone can do it successfully, it’s the man who has already has the hardware to prove he’s up to the task.

19 thoughts on “NCAA finally frees Chris Walker: Why the waiting might not be the hardest part

  1. Pingback: NCAA finally frees Chris Walker: Why the waiting might not be the hardest part - BallHyped Blog Network, NCAA Basketball | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. Fortunately, Al, Donovan gets to coach some of the best young talent in the nation. Back to back rings will do that for a guy.

    Think about the players he’s put into the NBA over the years. Any high schooler would be a fool not to play for him.

    I’m trying to be as partial as possible but this team is really well put together. They’ve already had their tough losses in the tournament the last few years and know that, this season, it’s all or nothing.

    I like their determination. I’m just curious to see how soon and for how long Walker will crack this rotation.

  3. Al…

    In another average year for the SEC, this Florida team actually has the opportunity to run the table in conference. You heard it here first.

    I don’t know how much of this talent will translate to the next level but someone will definitely take a flyer on Patric Young. Smart kid and a beast. A little undersized height-wise but a physical specimen. I consider him a poor man’s Dwight Howard without the jumping ability but the same unrefined post-game. They both love that jump hook. Wouldn’t surprise me to see someone take a real good look at Prather too.

    And I think you’re expecting a little too much out of Deion’s journalistic skill there, Al. He’s not Cronkite, man. He’s prime time. Although if he’s gonna conduct interviews like that, maybe we should start calling him After Hours.

  4. Chris

    Sanders may not have been Kronkite , but repeatedly during the interview one could see that Lynch wanted no part of it and Deion Sanders simply egged on the idiocy with his questions , knowing with a certainty what Marshawn Lynch’s response was likely to be .

    With the Gators’ team as long 1sa as the commitment is there from the freshmen who become sophomore , who become juniors and the gradual upward progress is there in terms of leadership by example. Then I believe that Donovan and the players will do fine .

    This is not what I opened up a bottle of premium Scotch to be watching ! The Denver “Doncos “ are getting their @ss handed to them and Russell Wilson could end up being named Superbowl MVP , given his performance . Omaha , Omaha , Omaha ! Where for art thou Omaha ?

    tophatal …………

  5. Chris, you are an absolute homer. Now that we’ve got that out of the way did you happen to catch any action from either the Duke-Syracuse or Arizona-Cal games on Super Bowl Eve? I swear if I wasn’t all-in on the Super Bowl “coverage” I would have posted something on them and likely still will. The Duke-Syracuse game was one of the top ten games I have ever seen. The Arizona-Cal game I had to stay up for afterwards simply because I was so revved up from what went down in the Carrier Dome. The Arizona game was far from a classic but no less compelling since a February #1, undefeated team eventually went down to defeat. I do like the Gators a bunch but I fret that the SEC won’t rough ’em up enough for March. But let’s see if they can run the table first.

  6. Chris

    Still have implicit faith in the Buccaneers’ front office ? Widely circulating rumors are that Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht are showing an interest in acquiring soon to be free agent quarterback Michael Vick . And you are trying to suggest that the franchise knows what it is doing ? What is meant to be the upside in such a move ? Hell, the team got rid of Josh Freeman , because of his inconsistent play and now they’re considering Vick as possible backup to Mike Glennon ? LOL,LOL,LOL,LOL !!!!!

    tophatal …………..

  7. Al…

    That’s what they get for putting a microphone in front of Lynch. Guy doesn’t want to talk. I don’t understand why they just don’t leave him alone.

    Pretty ugly loss for the Broncos. The Seahawks definitely came to play. I haven’t see a defense play that dominant in a Super Bowl since the Bucs did it against the Raiders.

  8. Burnsy…

    I did tune into that Duke-Cuse game but missed the Zona-Cal game. A friend told me they lost on a buzzer beater.

    That being said, damn, Coach K can recruit.

    Although I gotta tell you. The homer in me like our chances against either of those teams.

    Only March will tell, my friend, and I can’t wait.

  9. Al…

    I heard that about Vick.

    I’m not sure what they stand to gain from that.

    If they want to invite him into camp and can do so for no money, then it might not be a bad risk.

    But, ugh, I’m just not sure.

  10. Chris

    You have to remember the imbecile conducting the interview . Deion Sanders remains a “legend in his own mind “ and no else’s .

    I’m sorry , but yesterday’s contest ten minutes in , was completely lost on me in being a competitive game ! The Seahawks came to play , whereas the Broncos came to see the sites in East Rutherford , New Jersey . I mean what the hell is there to see in that part of New Jersey to begin with ?

    Giants’ owner , John K Mara stated that he believes the state’s staging of the event was a monumental success and would like to see another Superbowl staged at MetLife Stadium within the next five years . I bet he would !

    Vick , given his recent playing tendencies , if made a starter by the Bucs would sink the franchise deeper into mediocrity .

    tophatal ……………..

  11. Al…

    Not sure if you caught ESPN’s post-game coverage but Steve Young was asking far more relevant questions than Chris Berman and Stuart Scott. Don’t these people go to school for journalism? How is it that former jocks are better than them at their jobs?

    I still watched the game til the end though. Despite the blowout, I just wanted to see what sort of havoc Seattle’s defense would wreak next.

    New York got lucky with the weather last night. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them press their luck with another Bowl in the future.

    And I’m inclined to agree with you on bringing in Vick but I also think the Bucs have to weigh all their options. What other free agent quarterbacks are out there that are worth a damn? If they were worth a damn, they’d be re-signed.

  12. Chris

    ESPN believes at times that the personalities (journalists) they hire as commentators are knowledgeable . Look, Stephen A Smith , Skip Bayless , Buster Olney and Chris Berman are complete oafs . Peter Gammons , while at ESPN , was a bile inducing @sshole of the highest order , who when posed the question about the use of steroids in the game of baseball , was like a deer caught in headlights .

    Former Niners’ quarterback Steve Young is one of the few athletes on air that I would listen to ! Away from the game he got his law degree and has actually practiced in that field . Another NFL player whose knowledge is very succinct , just happens to be former Vikings’ running back Robert Smith . The running back actually studied medicine and would have graduated early with his degree and wanting to go in the field of pediatric medicine . Smith’s knowledge concerning College Football is insightful and filled with a great deal of clarity . And with regard to the NFL it is very much the same thing there as well.

    Having Deion Sanders on air is simply an embarrassment and the NFL Network and the idiots running the outlet remain so clueless !

    So this Superbowl became the highest rated and most watched in history , as well as having the most watched program in US television history ?

    tophatal ……………………….

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