UF MEN'S BASKETBALL

Notebook: Walker mum on future plans


Florida forward Chris Walker (23) goes up for a shot over Missouri forward Torren Jones (24) during the Gators' 72-49 win Friday at the Georgia Dome to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 at 7:46 p.m.

ATLANTA — Given how long the process took just to get eligible, Florida freshman forward Chris Walker hasn't viewed this season as humbling.

“I'm just happy to be here, happy to be winning with this team,” Walker said.

But Walker would not confirm or deny whether he intends to return to UF for his sophomore season or jump to the NBA draft.

“I haven't been thinking about that,” Walker said. “I'm just trying to focus on trying to get better every day and keep trying to win.”

On the surface, the 6-foot-10 Walker jumping to the NBA would seem like a stretch, given his college production (1.8 points, 1.6 rebounds heading into Friday's SEC quarterfinal matchup with Missouri). But the NBA draft is a futures market, and Walker's combination of size and athletic ability make him a viable prospect. He's been projected as high as the 22nd overall pick in the first round by some NBA mock draft websites.

“He needs to come back,” said an NBA scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He needs to have a great summer, get physically stronger and have a great sophomore year.”

Walker finished with four points and one rebound in six minutes off the bench during UF's 72-49 SEC tournament quarterfinal win over Missouri.

“It felt good to come in and contribute,” Walker said.

Walker is hopeful his role will continue to grow and expand during the postseason.

“I'm learning offense more and learning defense more, just learning and competing,” Walker said. “Here on out, I just want to continue to keep playing with energy, keep trying to rebound and score when I can.”

Walker said Florida senior center Patric Young has taken him under his wing. Young had chances to put his name into the NBA draft earlier in his career, but has talked about the value of staying at UF for all four years and how it's positively impacted his career.

“I wasn't ready,” Young said. “If I had left early, I'd probably be playing the D-League or Europe somewhere dwelling on why I didn't make it.”

Young is not imparting that kind of wisdom on Walker, but has been helpful in getting the McDonald's All-American on the same page with teammates.

“He told me when he was a freshman, it was a process, and if you stick to the process, things will get better,” Walker said.

No plans to move SEC tourney final

SEC commissioner Mike Slive heard the rumblings from Florida coach Billy Donovan earlier in the week about holding the tournament final on Selection Sunday. But Slive said at this point, there are no plans to move the tournament final up to Saturday afternoon.

“We've been doing this format for a long time,” Slive said. “There's been no discussion to change it. Now if the coaches raise it in our spring meetings, we'll certainly talk about it and think about it.”

Donovan's concern has been having limited time to travel and prepare in playing a Thursday game in the NCAA tournament after an SEC tournament final game on Sunday afternoon. Slive, who served as head of the NCAA tournament selection committee in 2008-09, said he checked with former NCAA executive Greg Shaheen a few years ago about how teams performed the Thursday after playing a Sunday conference tournament final.

“All the data showed there was no difference in the success of the team in the Sunday-Thursday cycle,” Slive said. “As a matter of fact, there were times when teams that played on that cycle performed better than the teams that had the extra day. I understand (Donovan's) concern and I respect it. But as a former member of the committee, the data doesn't support it.”

Stolt honored

Former Florida guard Greg Stolt was honored as an SEC legend during halftime of the UF-Missouri game.

Stolt, who played at UF from 1995-99, helped lead the Gators to a Sweet 16 as a senior by shooting an SEC-best 43.8 percent from 3-point range as a senior. He now serves as the NBA's Associate Vice President for Basketball Operations in China.

Stolt visited UF's locker room shortly after the Missouri game.

Etc.

Attendance during the Friday afternoon session (Florida-Missouri, Tennessee-South Carolina) was 15,273. … Before the afternoon session, the SEC announced that early-round tournament games from Wednesday to Friday will air exclusively on the SEC Network next season. The network is set to launch Aug. 14. In addition, Florida and Kentucky will be involved in a doubleheader Nov. 14 that will debut the SEC Network's men's basketball broadcasts. … Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes said he maintains good relationships with both Florida coach Billy Donovan and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II from playing with Donovan's Team USA 19-under world championship squad last summer.

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