Florida forward Chris Walker’s freshman season hasn’t unfolded the we he had hopes. The 6-foot-10 former McDonald’s All American missed UF’s first semester for academic reasons, then sat out another dozen games due to eligibility issues.
By the time Walker hit the court in February, he was far behind both physically and mentally. As a result, Walker has averaged just 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.1 minutes off the bench this season.
But Walker has remained upbeat because the Gators are winning. Florida takes a 28-game winning streak into its Sweet 16 matchup against UCLA. Florida coach Billy Donovan said he’s been happy that Walker was shown the maturity to understand his limited role, given the circumstances.
“When you deal with a guy that’s as highly exposed as he is, the frustration can seep in after a couple of games, OK, I’m fine not playing, but why am I not playing right now?,” Donovan said. “He’s not been like that. I think he knows coming in midseason, he hasn’t had the attitude of disrupting our team. I think he’s tried to contribute and help however he can.”
Walker still hasn’t committed coming back for his sophomore season, due to mixed projections that he could be an NBA first-round draft pick in 2014 based on his athletic ability. He’s shown flashes of that ability on the court, including a 5-point game off the bench against Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game. But Walker also at times has struggled with his positioning in UF’s intricate help-defense scheme.
“I think the individual talent in terms of running and jumping, shot blocking, there’s things that he’s very, very gifted at that come easy to him,” Donovan said. “But I also think the days of standing in the lane in a high school game and daring people to come down the lane and block shots, those days are over with now.
“Now he’s got to worry about screening action, being screened, guarding pick-and-rolls, guarding big guys that shoot, being in the first sport. There’s a lot that goes into that and I think he even himself would admit sometimes he’s been overwhelmed by it.”