As happy as he is to have Chris Walker practicing with his 19th-ranked Florida Gators, Billy Donovan is quick to temper expectations about the 6-10, 220-pound McDonald’s All-American.
“There has obviously been a lot of attention with him coming into school, but I think the one thing that people have to realize is the fact that he’s going to come in here and totally change our team – that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Donovan said Monday morning as the Gators (7-2) were preparing to leave for New York where they will play 15th-ranked Memphis (7-1) at Madison Square Garden (9 p.m., ESPN). “He’s got such a long way to go and it’s not his fault. Obviously when you miss September, October and November and then part of December you’re going to be really, really behind.”
Walker is certainly talented enough to play at this level and at some point be an impact player, but for the moment, he’s more than three months behind in learning the offense and defense. Donovan won’t force-feed Walker but will allow him the time to develop.
There is also an issue of chemistry. The other players on the team have grown familiar with each other and have a good idea what to do and who’s doing what in most situations. In addition to learning the system, Walker has to learn his teammates.
“I think like most front court players coming out of high school who are shot blockers and play at the rim just the defensive nuances of being in college and the rotations and where you are supposed to be, he has no idea where he is supposed to be right now,” Donovan said. “And it’s not his fault, it’s just going to be a process for him and I just hope he doesn’t get frustrated and I hope people realize he’s not going to be the savior and all of a sudden like he doesn’t just change our team. I’m just happy to have a body, happy that he’s able to participate. I’m happy for him more than anything else.”
WALKER WON’T MAKE THE TRIP TO NEW YORK
Walker won’t make the trip to New York with the team. It is possible he could be declared eligible by Saturday for the game with Fresno State in Sunrise, but Donovan said when Walker is eligible to play is in the hands of the NCAA and totally out of his control.
Right now for myself and our staff and our team that is totally out of our hands. Our administration is handling that and that’s really up to our administration and the NCAA in terms of trying to figure out a timely fashion when he would be able to play. Obviously he’s not going on the trip to New York and will not be available for Memphis. What the time table is, I really have no idea. All of that stuff is out of my hands right now. The only thing that I’m working on and focusing on right now is our team getting ready for Memphis and then certainly trying to acclimate him on what he needs to do on a consistent basis here.”
WALKER WORKED HARD TO BECOME ELIGIBLE
Perhaps lost in the process of getting Walker eligible has been the grind he has had to go through. Poor grades had something to do with Walker not being admitted to school in September, but there are other factors including poor advice given by advisors along the way. Walker had to make up a lot of academic ground taking online courses. He could have signed a pro contract and gone to Europe to play this year, but instead wanted very much to be a Gator so he stuck through the process and gained his eligibility. Donovan said he’s tremendously proud that Walker worked so hard to put himself in position to play for the Gators.
I think one, we’re really, really happy that he’s here, more than anything else not as it relates to our team but as it relates to him because that kid has really, really worked hard and has shown great resiliency to be here and I think the fact that that he has worked so hard to get here says a lot about his commitment to wanting to be at Florida,” Donovan said.
Scottie Wilbekin was named the SEC Player of the Week for his performance against Kansas. In leading the Gators to a 67-61 win over the then 13th-ranked Jayhawks, Wilbekin scored 18 points and contributed six assists and four steals.
DONOVAN DISCUSSES DAMONTRE HARRIS
When he discussed Damontre Harris last week, Donovan said that he had not talked to the 6-10 center, a transfer from South Carolina. Asked for an update on Monday, Donovan said that he had talked to Harris but there was no change in his status — still suspended.
Talked to Damontre a little bit last week,” Donovan said. “Nothing has changed at all. Right now he’s not part of our team. I don’t anticipate him coming back to be a part of our team. Like I said earlier I think he has shown no signs of wanting to do the things necessary to come back. So I really don’t know what his plans would be or where he’ll go but right now I don’t ever anticipate him playing here at Florida.”
WILBEKIN AND HILL WILL PLAY TOGETHER AT TIMES
Now that he has both Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill available at the same time, Donovan won’t hesitate to put the two of them on the floor at the same time although he’s got to retool the offense a bit to accommodate the change. Wilbekin is a fine shooter and can balance the floor with Michael Frazier on the other side. When Dorian Finney-Smith is in the game, the Gators have three very good outside shooters in the lineup.
Those guys have played some together, they’re getting more comfortable playing together some but besides those two guys being comfortable with each other the bigger issue is taking a guy like Scottie and moving him to the two where he’s really over the last year or so has never played there,” Donovan said. “Now he knows what’s going on, he’s very cerebral, he’s very smart, it’s not like he doesn’t understand but the ball’s not quite in his hands as much so I’ve got to do things in terms of running plays to get the ball in his hands, running pick and roll and coming off screens and things like that. But as far as their chemistry coming together it’s been fine. And I think what it does do moving Scottie to the two when we have Frazier at the three or Dorian Finney-Smith at the four it give us some more shooting than maybe at some times we have had in the past.”