Chris Walker is back for the Florida Gators…again.
The sophomore forward has paid his dues regarding his three game suspension of violating team rules and sat out for the Barry, William & Mary and Miami games to commence the season. He will now play his first game against Louisiana-Monroe Friday night.
Walker isn’t new to this situation, he had to wait until after the first semester to finally play last year for Florida during his freshman campaign and during his suspension this season he wasn’t on the court shooting pregame or sitting on the bench during the game, instead he was in the arena watching the game in a film room analyzing his team playing.
A lot of time has been spent away from his sole purpose, but all of that is in the past now and what matters is that Walker can fill the void of Dorian Finney-Smith’s impact due to injury.
More importantly, Walker has shown significant growth.
“I think he’s done a better job of handling the expectation that are out there on him. I really think that sometimes when there’s expectations on a player, a player can get really weighed on those expectations or a player can say, ‘There’s no way I can reach that expectation of what’s expected of me.’ I think for Chris [Walker], maybe early in the year he was wrapped up in those things,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “Now, I’ve seen a growth in him where he’s gotten back down to reality of, ‘I need to get better. I need to improve. I need to figure out a way to help our team.’”
For the Bonifay, Florida native, it’s no longer about the expectations being handled; it’s about going on the court and providing for the Gators, especially this early in the season where the team’s identity will be formulating by the game.
Donovan compared it to a situation he had with Patric Young last season and how everyone was harping on him having a huge offensive game. He told Young what he needed from him and those things were to run the floor, rebound, post up, be a presence at the basket and chase the ball down on the offense glass. That is what he needs Walker to do to aid the team and that’s playing to his strengths.
“He’s gotten away from this idea that he needs to be this scorer,” Donovan said. “I think he’s playing closer to his strengths and I think we as a coaching staff have tried to help him see that.”
For a player who has sat out a lot since arriving here at Florida, being impatient can be easy and losing focus is simple, but surprisingly Walker has kept low-key and the transition from last season to now shows in his demeanor.
The factor of how Walker, who averaged about two points, 1.3 rebounds in 4.8 minutes last season, will be used in the lineup with this year’s team is interesting.
Donovan has already implemented a three-guard lineup with Kasey Hill, Eli Carter and Michael Frazier II that has shown to be productive thus far and now with Finney-Smith being sidelined for the moment, Walker can slide into that void with Jon Horford in the frontcourt.
Is it possible they even play together at all as the big men on the squad?
“I think if they did play some together, Jon (Horford) would move to the power forward spot and Chris (Walker) would play the center spot. We’ve done a little bit of that in practice, not necessarily a lot,” Donovan said. “How much they’ve played together, I don’t know. I think Jon being an older guy, he understands both positions. Chris probably feels very comfortable now at the center spot.”
Due to Walker being out because of the early games, they haven’t been able to implement that a lot, but Donovan believes his two frontcourt players could play together and work off each other.
The time has come for “Skywalker” to make his mark at Florida, but at the same time play to his identity on the court and to be a team player as the season progresses.
This team doesn’t need the ‘me’ factor that goes before the team as Donovan mentioned, instead it needs a bunch of individuals to gel into a unit and that will happen as long as the Gators improve on a game-by-game basis.
“My thing for him tomorrow is just to go out there and to have both feet in a circle and to do the things we need him to do, to help us be a better team,” Donovan said. That’s what I would say.”