Walker making big impact


Florida's Erving Walker looks to steal the ball from N.C. State's Julius Mays, at left, in the first half at the O'Connell Center on Jan. 3.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 11:31 p.m.

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, UF freshman guard Erving Walker followed his dad to pickup games throughout the borough.

Facts

Little guys, big hearts

A look at some notable NBA and college standouts who compensated for their lack of height:
1. Spud Webb
After averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 assists per game at North Carolina State, the 5-foot-6 Webb went on to a 13-year NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. Webb, who won the NBA slam dunk contest in 1986, finished his career with 8,072 points and 4,342 assists.
2. Tyrone Bogues
The 5-foot-3 “Muggsy” Bogues moved on from Wake Forest to a 14-year NBA career. His best seasons came with the Charlotte Hornets. Picked in the club’s 1988 expansion draft, Bogues spent the next 10 seasons in Charlotte, part of a perennial playoff team that included Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.
3. Earl Boykins
The 5-foot-5 Boykins has bounced around to nine different NBA franchises during a nine-year NBA career. Scored 32 points for the Denver Nuggets in a Nuggets home win against the Detroit Pistons in 2004, becoming the shortest player ever to score more than 30 points in an NBA game.
4. Nate Robinson
Measured at 5-foot-7.75 inches, Robinson has made up for his lack of size with a 43.5-inch vertical leap. A former college standout at Washington, Robinson has played since 2005 with the New York Knicks. He won the NBA slam dunk contest in 2006.
5. Tajuan Porter
A junior at Oregon, the 5-foot-6 Porter made a school-record 110 3-pointers as a freshman in 2006-07, helping lead the Ducks to an Elite Eight appearance against Florida. Averaged 14.6 points per game as a freshman and 13.9 points per game last season.
— Kevin Brockway

After each game, Walker would launch a shot a step back from where he was before.

“Sometimes it would go in,” Walker said. “Me being smaller, I knew I had to develop that and keep that in my game.”

Walker’s growth spurt never came, but at a listed 5-foot-8, the smallest player that coach Billy Donovan ever signed at Florida has emerged as the biggest surprise for the Gators this season. Off a career-high 17-point game against Vanderbilt, Walker will look to continue to provide his combination of deep shooting and pesky defense off the bench tonight when Florida hosts Georgia.

Teammates have given Walker the nickname “Mini-Max,” but no one so far has questioned the size of his heart.

“Erving Walker is probably the smallest guy I have ever had and he impacts the game with his defense, making a couple of big shots, and just playing tough,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

For a team last season that was soft on the defensive end of the floor, Walker has provided a much-needed jolt. His two steals and energy on the press brought Florida back from a 10-point halftime deficit against North Carolina State.

“If he was a guy who didn’t have that toughness and only wanted to shoot, I would have doubts,” Donovan said. “But here is a guy who physically mixes it up for me. I am not saying that he is going to grab four or five rebounds a game, but he is going to mix it up, throw his body in plays. He is going to pressure the ball and he will do some things that will have an impact.”

Offensively, Walker has made his biggest impact from the perimeter. For the season, Walker is shooting 40.2 percent (33-82) from 3-point range. He’s made some big ones and he’s made some deep ones. At Auburn, Walker made back-to-back 3-pointers with under four minutes remaining to help preserve a 68-65 win. At Vanderbilt, Walker stepped out to beyond 22 feet to make one of his three first-half 3-pointers.

Walker’s shooting brings to mind another pint-sized point guard that Donovan tried to recruit, current Oregon 5-foot-6 point junior guard Tajuan Porter. Porter made a school-record 110 3-pointers as a freshman, helping lead the Ducks to an eventual Elite Eight loss in 2007 against the Gators.

Like Porter, Donovan felt that Walker had the intangibles to compensate for his size at the Division I level. But Donovan nearly let Walker re-open his recruitment after he signed Jai Lucas in the spring of 2007. Donovan brought in Lucas after losing Taurean Green to the NBA draft, and many people were telling Walker at the time that Florida would no longer be a good fit for him.

“I told him if you really feel like you need to reopen your recruitment and make a decision that is best for you then I will understand,” Donovan said. “He said, ‘no coach, whenever I play I will have to compete and I have no problem going in there and competing, and this is where I want to go’. I really respected and admired that because I think that shows a lot in a player.”

Ironically, it was Lucas’ decision to transfer to Texas that opened the door for Walker to get more playing time as a freshman. So for, he’s made the most of it in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference, despite facing bigger, more physical guards.

“It’s tough to defend a little guy, so I try to use my height to my advantage,” Walker said. “I’m already low to the ground so if I get low, I’m even lower to the ground. I just try to use my quickness and go up and under the big guys rather than play tall.”

The toughness, Walker says, comes from games on the New York City playgrounds.

“Because of my height, I can’t be soft and small,” Walker said. “Those things don’t go together.”

Walker has had some growing pains, including a five-turnover performance against South Carolina in which another player in the under six-foot fraternity, 5-foot-9 guard Devan Downey, gave him problems. At this point, Walker seems more effective against those who may underestimate his physical stature.

“I love when somebody looks down on me or thinks it’ll be easy,” Walker said. “If they lose some of their edge, that just makes it easier for me. And why not have it easier?”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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