According to a report by Jeff Goodman of ESPN, Chris Walker’s ordeal is about to come to an end. Goodman is reporting that the NCAA has cleared Walker to play starting Tuesday night when 3rd-ranked Florida (17-2, 6-0 SEC) plays host to Missouri (16-4, 4-3 SEC) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Goodman reports has been forced to sit for accepting preferential treatment from five people including two agents and that he will be required to pay back $270 and perform 80 hours of community service. Goodman says that the NCAA says that Walker received free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel. Individuals close to Walker received free airfare and lodging for nine trips — including eight associated with AAU competitions.
Walker is a 6-10, 215 pound forward with incredible athletic skills. He led Holmes County to the Florida Class 1A championship last March and then won the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk contest in April. Florida coach Billy Donovan has tried to temper expectations for Walker, telling fans not to expect the big kid to come in and dominate games right away.
“He’s got a lot of growing to do,” Donovan said Monday. “He’s got a lot of physical growing, mental growing. He’s got to understand the college game a lot more. There’s so much that’s in front of him to try and get better at. I just hope that people will not look at it and say ‘wow. I was expecting something different.’ And hopefully, for him, I don’t want to see him have to go through that.”
Walker gives the Gators another pure post player to work in rotation with 6-9, 240 Patric Young and 6-8, 230 Will Yeguete. Perhaps his biggest contribution until he gets a better feel for the college game will be to block some shots and give the Gators an extra five fouls which could translate to a few extra minutes of rest each game for Yeguete and Young.
It also gives Donovan the ability to be a bit more flexible in his lineups. Leading scorer Casey Prather can probably play more on the wing while Dorian Finney-Smith, the third member of the low post rotation due to a lack of size on the roster, will be able to play more at the high post and on the perimeter where he is a matchup nightmare.
Without Walker, the Gators are one of the best teams in the country. With him, they just got that much better and their chances of getting past the Elite Eight game, where they’ve seen their season finish three straight years, have taken a step in the right direction.