Lost promise: The disturbingly parallel paths of Donnell Harvey and Chris Walker

Billy The KiddThe year was 1999.

A young Billy Donovan was starting to cut his teeth at the University of Florida.  Anyone who saw Billy the Kid play college ball at Providence under Rick Pitino knew it was only a matter of time before he made his mark in the coaching ranks.

1999 was that year.

I remember meeting Coach Donovan before that season started.  I was living in Orlando at the time and caught Coach Donovan as he was conducting his annual, whirlwind, pre-season tour of the Sunshine State trying to raise support for the program.

My old college roommate, aka Partykiller, and I actually snuck into the event that afternoon.  I believe it only cost about twenty bucks to get in, but barely out of graduate school and still gainfully broke, somehow we just walked right in.  Partykiller and his lovely bride actually snuck into the Florida-Ohio State NCAA championship game many years later but that’s a story for another time.

Donovan was cordial or about as cordial as one could be after signing a thousand autographs and answering question after question from a roomful of homers.

When it was my turn to shake his hand and grab an autograph, I asked him about an incoming freshman who was supposed to be a game-changer.  That kid’s name was Donnell Harvey.

Donnell Harvey at FloridaWe didn’t know much about Harvey but we had heard he was a tall, lanky swingman out of Georgia that was just the kind of player we needed: an explosive, athletic scorer that would not only put Florida on the map but become the kind of NBA player future recruits would look to and say “Damn, that Harvey kid is a bad-ass.  I want to go to Florida because Harvey went there.”

Nobody ended up saying that.  In fact, unless you’re a Gator homer like I am, you’ve probably never even heard of Donnell Harvey.

Florida had a great season that year, making it all the way to the national championship game and ultimately losing to a Michigan State team that had Morris Peterson, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson and Mateen Cleaves.  No slouches themselves, Florida boasted Mike Miller, Matt Bonner, Udonis Haslem… and Donnell Harvey.

Harvey had a decent freshman year, averaging ten points and seven rebounds on a team that already had a fair amount of big men.  As is the case with so many college athletes, Harvey left after his freshman season, despite clearly needing more work on his game.  The lure of the NBA was too great.

Harvey was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks, for whom he played one season, barely seeing any playing time.  The following season he played for the Denver Nuggets.  The year after that, he played for the Orlando Magic.  Then it was off to Phoenix, Sioux City, the Nets, Greece, Turkey and China.  Harvey’s passport looks like that of a well-traveled diplomat.  He just couldn’t cut it in the NBA.

Chris Walker UFLast year, Chris Walker was a sophomore at the University of Florida.  His was a season characterized by turmoil.  Two years ago, Walker was supposed to turn around the program.  I remember watching scout videos of him coming out of high school, a big man with small man skills and could leap out of the building.  He was one of the nation’s top recruits.  He was Donovan’s next big project.

Calling Walker’s two years at Florida a disappointment would be kind.  Walker never developed into the player most thought he would be.  Once news broke that Donovan was leaving Gainesville for the NBA, Walker and a number of other players jumped ship as well.  He declared for the NBA Draft.

Thursday night, Walker went undrafted.  After all, why wouldn’t he?  Despite having a boatload of talent, when given the opportunity to shine, Walker couldn’t even crack Florida’s starting lineup.

Walker reminds me a lot of Harvey, who reminds me of a lot of other young, high-profile players who followed their dream of playing in the big leagues but did so way too early.  Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live their lives.  I get that the opportunity to make millions is difficult to pass up.  But long-term thinking and a disciplined work ethic beat out making a quick buck every time.

Walker might eventually end up on an NBA roster but the odds are he’ll become a journeyman like Harvey… if he’s lucky.  The odds of a guy with major promise not playing major minutes for an established program going undrafted and making a splash in the NBA are miniscule at best.  That’s Chris Walker’s future staring him directly in the face.

And so, his journey begins.  Perhaps Donnell Harvey can give him some travel tips.

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8 Replies to “Lost promise: The disturbingly parallel paths of Donnell Harvey and Chris Walker”

  1. Talent wasted , normally a player who just didn’t what have what it takes .

    It’s really disappointing and even more so , when you consider so many of the kids who get drafted , within two years more than half will have left the league (NBA) never to be heard from again . Adonal Foyle, now with the Magic (front office _Player Personnel Development) has written a very revealing book about the pitfalls facing incoming rookies and the fact many of them have no idea how to manage their finances.

    Speaking of which , look at the situation concerning Tim Duncan and the fact he was defrauded out of $25 million over the last six years by an unscrupulous business agent.

    What the hell is the league hierarchy doing about situations like that which arise repeatedly in the NBA but rarely have you heard the hierarchy address such issues . And some believe this league as well as the other professional entities have some semblance of respectability ? Leagues such as the NBA , NFL ,NHL and MLB are simply devoid of intelligence and leadership.

  2. Can’t speak to everybody’s financial situation but it is a shame that they don’t stay until they either KNOW they are NBA talent or get a degree. Even so, I know a lot of kids that washed out after college who leveraged their personal charisma and smarts into success. Ultimately, it would appear they didn’t have it upstairs.

  3. The growing movement seems to be now to let these b-ballers test the waters deep into the NBA meat market selection process and then, if it doesn’t appear to work out draft-wise (without an agent of course….that’s SO evil…insert sarcasm) they can go scurrying back to college for another nine months of no-class, all-hoops training to take another run at the pros next season. Let’s make this easy for everyone to digest. If you try to turn pro in your college off-season and you can’t get anyone in the globe to give you a paycheck you can go on back to college. Period. All the majority of college basketball coaches want is to show you how smart they are. They don’t let these kids actually play basketball anyway…gotta run the “system.” I am sure coaches can figure out how to welcome back a player they figured was long gone and just tell a kid they brought in to be their replacement they’ll be a bench jockey instead in the upcoming season. Unless of course they wish to transfer and sit out a year. That ought to be fun to watch play out (insert additional sarcasm).

  4. Again, Moose, I’m for letting kids do what they want. Heck, how many kids that aren’t professional athletes decide not to go to college and enter the workplace just because they have to? So why should college athletics be any different?

    They just need to realize just as in any field you gotta work hard to succeed.

  5. Burnsy…

    Of course what stands in the way of any true progress is the NCAA which has only its own interests at stake.

    God forbid they do what’s best for the student-athlete.

  6. Yeah, never heard of either…Hopefully, for their sake, that will change someday.

    ..Then again, even that rookie contract is probably more than all of your readers combined will earn in our lifetimes…So I don’t really feel sorry for them.

  7. That’s just your West Coast bias talking, Bleed.

    And you’re right about the contracts although I haven’t checked the median income for my readers lately. Gonna have to look into that.

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