Updated at 4:15 p.m.
Florida Gators freshman forward Chris Walker will finally be able to step foot on a court more than a full month into 2014 as the NCAA has officially cleared him to play his first career college basketball game next Tuesday,
“We’re glad there’s a resolution for everyone involved, especially for Chris,” said head coach Billy Donovan in a subsequent statement. “We appreciate everyone’s participation in this process and are ready to move forward.”
As OnlyGators.com first reported on Dec. 14, Walker was told upon receiving his academic clearance not to expect to play in a game until January.
However, the NCAA’s delay in clearing Walker lasted longer than most everyone – especially the player and many involved with the program – expected.
Minutes after Walker’s clearance was first reported by ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, the NCAA released a explanatory statement regarding the situation and his suspension.
Men’s basketball student-athlete Chris Walker will be eligible to play for the University of Florida on Feb. 4 after sitting a total of 12 games, or 40 percent of the 2013-14 basketball season. Walker received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents. In addition, Walker will be required to donate the $270 received from the agents to a charity of his choice and serve 80 hours of community service for the remaining benefits received.
According to the facts of the case, which were agreed upon by the university and NCAA staff, when Walker was a prospect, he accepted free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel. Additionally, individuals close to Walker received free airfare and lodging for nine different trips, including eight associated with Walker’s non-scholastic basketball team competitions.
“The NCAA membership has expressed continued concern about how third-party influence, improper agent involvement and the role of nonscholastic basketball impact student-athletes and prospects,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs. “Out of concern for student-athletes’ wellbeing, our members have created rules that limit the involvement of these individuals. The 12 games Mr. Walker was required to sit out reflect the significance of these violations.”
Florida filed for reinstatement for Walker late Jan. 21. The NCAA then worked with Florida to finalize the facts until today’s decision.
Walker, a five-star prospect and consensus top 10-ranked player in the nation coming out of high school, was not academically eligible to play for the Gators in the fall but worked hard to achieve the necessary grades before joining the team after the conclusion of the semester on Dec. 14. He spent the weeks prior training in Ocala, FL.
He has already missed 10 games but will sit for two more before being able to step onto the hardwood. Florida plays at Mississippi State on Thursday and hosts Texas A&M on Saturday. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, UF faces Missouri in Gainesville, FL. The nationally-televised game will air live on ESPN.
“I appreciate all the support from UF, Coach Donovan and my teammates, and I’m looking forward to helping the team any way I can,” said Walker in a school release.
Despite the extended wait, the Gators are now only a couple days away from utilizing his athleticism and natural ability to strengthen its frontcourt depth.
Though Walker (6-foot-10, 220 pounds) will be playing in his first career college game next Tuesday, he is unlikely to be handed heavy minutes from the get-go. Donovan is expected to work him into the rotation and give him additional court time as he earns it both with his effort in practice and on the floor during games.