Visibly frustrated and fed up with the NCAA dragging its feet in regards to the eligibility of Florida Gators forward Chris Walker, head coach Billy Donovan last week claimed he was done answering questions about the much-hyped freshman.
But Donovan displayed an improved disposition about the situation on Monday when he not only discussed Walker at length but exuded positivity while talking about how the five-star prospect could help Florida over the remaining weeks of the 2013-14 season.
“Yeah, I’m gonna play him,” said Donovan without hesitation or exception when asked if he had any reservations about Walker seeing the court once he was cleared.
“He’s more prepared than he was a couple of weeks ago. I think the biggest adjustment he’s made is just having a better feel for what we’re doing defensively than offensively.”
Walker, who joined the team on Dec. 14, 2013 and has missed 10 games while he awaits clearance from the NCAA, has remained motivated albeit extremely frustrated throughout his unfortunate predicament.
National analysts like Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas has come to his defense, calling out the organization for holding Walker, his team and its fans hostage while fishing for a reason to keep him on the bench and off the court. Even Donovan discussed his displeasure with how the events have transpired.
Now Walker’s coach is more concerned about relaying the fact that his heralded freshman has gained approximately 10 pounds through the Gators strength program.
Donovan has transitioned from dismissing questions about Walker and whether he will play to answering queries about what will happen when he finally gets on the court.
“I’m sure he’ll be very anxious and nervous and excited.” he said. “How many minutes we could actually get out of him? I’m not really sure, but he’s a really, really good kid that’s worked hard, and he’s eager to learn and get better. I appreciate just the way he’s handled himself in a very difficult situation.”
Donovan has even turned to his tried and true method of telling media and fans not to compare his latest top-tier talent to an NBA superstar, such as when he suggested that holding up Patric Young to Dwight Howard and Dorian Finney-Smith to Magic Johnson (something that never happened) was unfair to the players.
“Sometimes when the guy’s not playing, the legend of Chris Walker grows greater than who he really actually is, you know? It’s the same thing with Doe-Doe last year. He’s sitting out and everyone’s talking about this guy like he’s Magic Johnson,” Donovan said.
“Chris Walker now it’s like, my God, this guy is going to end up being Kevin Garnett. I mean, he’s not that. And I think if anybody, whenever he gets able to play, if that’s your expectation of Chris Walker, then you’re going to be very, very disappointed because he’s not that.”
Donovan claims he simply does not want Walker to believe he has to live up to all of the hype, anticipation and excitement that has been somewhat artificially built up, though he was a top 10-rated talent coming out of high school. He is more concerned with Walker doing what he can to help the team immediately.
“If anybody’s expecting him to be a savior, it would really be unfair. He’s got a lot of growing to do,” Donovan said.
For Florida, which was newly minted as the No. 3 team in the nation just hours after Donovan spoke on Monday, it is unlikely any sane college basketball fan believes the Gators need a hero or expects Walker to don a cape when he eventually takes the court.
All anyone wants is for him to be a basketball player again.