Forum Fracas: Erving Walker

Beginning a new series, Brent Mechler will debate controversial Gators topics before rendering a verdict.

Now we are engaged in a great debate, testing whether that Nuttin’ But Net Forum, or any forum so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great website of discussion. We have come to dedicate a portion of that site, as a final resting place for those banned….who here gave their screenames that that forum might flourish.

Ok, so perhaps my introduction is a tad dramatic, and maybe I need not summon Abraham Lincoln. But hey, I am introducing a new column theme that I am kinda excited about. I have contemplated and wrangled with a name for the series , and for now have settled on “Forum Fracas”. The intention is to identify, analyze, discuss and ultimately render a verdict on the controversial topics that spawn 15-page threads, illicit angry emoticons (“eyes rolling” is always a favorite), foster furious exchanges and result in forum expulsion.

So, without further adieu, I give you the inaugural topic: Erving Walker.

Sure, our diminutive point guard has graduated. He is gone, but hardly forgotten. In fact, one need not scroll too far, or read too deeply into the forum before his name appears . . . and a ‘forum fracas’ ensues.

The moment his jumper clanged off the rim in the 2008-2009 SEC Tournament, Walker fell into the arms of Walter Hodge, and simultaneously into the hearts of some fans and the ire of others.

“Big Shot Erv” missed that big shot. . . and would miss many more during his career. But even his fiercest critics acknowledge a fearless approach and willingness to try to win games during times other players often wilt.

But was this attitude an attribute or a detriment? How big was this little guy to his Gator team?

Critics will suggest that Erv’s mentality undermined his role as a point guard, and in doing so, sometimes hampered his squad. They will justifiably reference that critical statistic for a point guard. . . the assist-to-turnover ratio. Erv’s, too frequently slumped below the benchmark 2.0 figure.

But Erv’s entourage easily counters with a most impressive statistic . . . 547. The number, of course, represents his record-setting assist tally.

There are endless numbers thrown around in this endless debate, including many lofty career rankings for Erv: #1 in assists, #4 in scoring, #2 in 3-point field goals made, & #7 in free throws made.

But, of course, for every point there is a counter point… and every statistic yields another. Critics will suggest Erv’s increased opportunities allowed for increased output and statistics. After all, he does rank #1 in minutes played, #2 in games played, #5 in field goal attempts and #2 in 3-point attempts.

So, we are left with figures that can be argued for either side, and the debate that is allowed to rage on. But as is often the case, one’s eyes often reveal what the statistics do not.

Flashback to December 18, 2010. Florida is facing No. 6 Kansas State, and in the early goings a tentative Gators team is on the verge of being blown off the court. After seven minutes, nary a Gator point has been scored and the prospects of achieving such begin to look increasingly difficult. The ball frantically moves between Boynton, Parsons, Murphy and Tyus. . . each passing the hot potato until it arrives in the steadying hands of the point guard.

Erv, who has already contributed a foul and turnover of his own, seems unfazed by the score, his team’s drought or the opponent’s tenacious defense. He pours in the next seven Gators’ points, and in doing so pulls his team back into the game, as well as his visibly rattled teammates. But he doesn’t do so with assists, points or mere statistics. He does it with a moxy and confidence that his team would so often. . . sometimes so subtly rely upon.

Erv’s occasional reckless on-court pursuits . . . the plays that made fans grimace as if nursing a hellacious migraine. . . were borne of a fearless and confident style that also allowed him to do things that had those same fans shaking off the migraine and shaking their heads in awe.

As Coach Donovan surely realized during Erv’s career, it was impossible to entirely separate what made Erv great from what made him maddening to watch. During virtually every game, Erv made a play when his team most desperately needed one. This, despite an uncanny ability to find that proverbial banana peel at times his team absolutely needed to stay on its feet.

But truth be told, the former far outpaced and outnumbered the latter.

The Gators won that day in Sunrise (Fla.) in a game that perhaps provided the most insightful glimpse into Erv’s value to his team. They won by 13. So, mathematically those early seven points did not account for the winning margin.

But everyone watching in the stands and at home knew the truth…. without those points, without Erv…. the Gators were on the receiving end of a rout.

Erv’s much-critiqued role as starting Gator point guard began on November 15, 2009. He contributed only eight points, shot a couple ill-advised 3’s, continued an unlikely march to the assist record and, of course, provided a turnover. And the Gators won.

That final refrain would be repeated often with Erv at the helm , , , , 76 times to be exact. He took the reigns as point guard for a program the preceded his tenure with a three-year sabbatical from the NCAA tourney, and helped not only return each of the next three seasons, but also to twice make deep runs to the Elite Eight.

‘Big Shot’ Erv made some and missed some. He breezed through an opponent’s full-court press, but inexplicably slipped and slid. He threw the ball away, hit audacious 3’s and launched shots that made Billy’s widow’s peak peak!

He lofted layups that were easily spiked to the floor by players 13 inches taller and bounced off a 323-pound center to toss in a miracle bucket. He would sometimes seemingly “lose” a game only to help win it later.

But for all of his faults and flaws, and even greater than his statistics and rankings. . . Erving Walker was a winner. 

On November 9, for the first time in four years… for the first time in 144 games… the Gators will be without Erving Walker. They play Georgetown in a game floating on the USS Bataan. Will the Gators sink or swim without No. 11?

The verdict: Swim. But, there will be times next season that the Gators become stagnant and hesitant. They will tread water and wait to be rescued as the shot clock ticks toward :00. A new player will have to take on the ‘Big Shot’ role. And the Gator Nation will have to find a new basketball hero. And a new goat. 

Let the forum fracas ensue. .