F Walter Pitchford signs with Gators

Florida inked its second player of the 2011 basketball recruiting class when 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward Walter Pitchford signed his national letter of intent with the Gators on Wednesday.

The lengthy forward from Michigan initially committed and signed with DePaul in 2010 before asking for a release from his NLI, which was later granted by the Blue Demons.

After spending a year at Summit Christian Academy, a prep school, the well-spoken hoopster will finally get his chance to play Division I college basketball.

“I’m very excited,” he said, talking about playing for the Gators. “They’re about winning. I like being around winners.”

The Gators are coming off an Elite 8 appearance after finally rebounding from a tough rebuilding period following back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.

Bradley Beal, arguably the nation’s best pure shooter, is already on board with Florida in the 2011 class.

Getting Pitchford’s signature was the next step for a Gators basketball team with some questions in the frontcourt after losing Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons.

Pitchford is an athletic big who can stretch the floor. He said that’s one of his best attributes and something he hopes to provide the Gators when he arrives.

“I can shoot, I can put it on the floor, I can get to the rim and dunk on people, rebound and play defense,” he said.

Every day he works on drills to improve his ball-handling, and he said he’s good at putting it on the floor and beating his man.

And Pitchford makes sure when he’s working on improving his game that he’s doing it at game speed.

“Dribbling every day makes you more comfortable with putting it on the floor and getting up the floor,” he said. “Not doing stuff at half-speed, doing everything at full speed. Once you do that, it comes naturally. You just feel like you’re more comfortable with the ball and shooting.”

Pitchford visited Florida back in February for the Gators’ thrilling 61-60 win over Tennessee and committed shortly after.

At the time, playing time wasn’t a big selling point for him.

But with so little frontcourt depth heading into next season, Pitchford may find himself playing extensive minutes in the O’Dome sooner than he anticipated.

Two of Florida’s returning forwards, Cody Larson and Erik Murphy are suspended indefinitely following their weekend arrest.

Their futures are very much up in the air, and if either player doesn’t suit up for the Gators next season, Pitchford will become an even more important piece of the puzzle for Florida.

He doesn’t know exactly where he fits into the lineup yet but anticipates he’ll play forward and float to the perimeter at times, where he can use his jump shot like Murphy did for the Gators this season.

“Right now we haven’t really discussed most of that,” he said. “I know I’ll be a stretch four, where I’ll be able to be on the perimeter.”

But until the legal situation with Larson and Murphy is sorted out, it’s impossible to know just how many minutes Pitchford will get in 2011.

Regardless of the outcome of that decision, he’s making sure he’s working to put himself in a position to play early.

“I’m in the gym every day,” he said. “There’s room to improve for everything.”

That work ethic will likely pay dividends in the fall. It’s exactly the type of workman-like attitude Donovan looks for in his players.

Pitchford knows it and wants to make sure that’s the first thing his new head coach sees when he arrives this summer.

“Come into the program and buy into the system,” he said. “Just play hard every moment and go from there. Don’t take any time off.”