Much has been written about Florida Gators freshman forward Chris Walker, who is set to play in his first career college basketball game after serving a 12-game suspension handed down by the NCAA.
Practicing with the Gators since Dec. 14, Walker has seven weeks of work under his belt and is expected to play a reserve role for Florida, primarily serving as a backup for seniors center Patirc Young and F Will Yeguete.
Here is what head coach Billy Donovan and his players had to say about Young heading into Tuesday night’s home game against the Missouri Tigers.
» Walker on playing his first game for the Gators (via Florida’s school website): “I’m going to be nervous, but I think it’ll go away once I get on the court and get up and down a little bit. It’s going to be crazy when I check in, the crowd and all. But I feel that will be good for me. I appreciate all the support they gave when I was dealing with this stuff. Now, I’m going to get a chance to do what I love to do. … Being a home game, my first game, I think my motor is going to be running like crazy. It’s going to be ridiculous. I’m just so excited. … I’m going to play like a maniac.”
» Donovan on working Walker into Florida’s regular rotation: “He was separated from our team and there was a lot of attention given to the fact of when he was going to be cleared to play. Right now there should be no attention to Chris because it’s about our team. He’s now a part of our team. He needs to be in a role with our team that, however he can contribute and help our team, that’s the most important thing. He’s a humble kid. He understands that coming in he has to do whatever he can to help, whether that’s three minutes, two minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes. It’s all going to be predicated on how he’s doing and what he’s doing to help our team with foul trouble, fatigue and those things. Chris is no different than any member of our team right now. He’s been here for over a month. He’s caught up somewhat – not fully caught up, but he’s caught up somewhat – and I’m happy for him that he can now put a uniform on and go out there and play and all this stuff is behind him. As it relates to anything else, he’s part of our team. It’s not our team and Chris Walker’s suspension; he’s part of our team.”
» Donovan on what Walker has shown in practice: “The thing with Chris is he plays with good energy, he plays with a good motor, he’s athletic and can run. He’s a good rebounder. … Getting into the game [is] predicated on him knowing what he’s doing and what he can do in terms of coverages on the defensive end of the floor, what we’re running on offense, post defense and those kind of things. He can be the best runner in the world, the best jumper in the world and the best rebounder in the world, but if he can’t do the things inside the game plan of what we need to get done, then it becomes very difficult to play.”
» Donovan on Walker’s expectations for his first game: “I think he’s excited to play, but I think what Chris Walker wants is he just wanted to be part of the team from the beginning. He’s happy he’s here. He’s happy he’s playing. … I know he’s anxious; I know he’s excited. But I don’t think Chris Walker’s expectations [Tuesday] are to walk out there, play 30 minutes and start. To his credit, he’s taken the approach of ‘whatever I can do to help the team.’ Hopefully he’ll be able to do that in one way or another. In how many minutes or role, I don’t know that right now. … This is not going to be a guy that [Tuesday] you’re going to say, ‘Billy, you really, really downplayed this thing. This guy came out and played like Wilt Chamberlain.’ It’s not going to happen. He’s a good player that’s got a lot in front of him, a lot of growing and maturing that’s got to go on. I really don’t know how much he can [do]. He can go in there and do some really, really good things and really help our team, or he could go out there and really be lost in the game and get going too fast and the emotion of the game will overwhelm him and he’s so excited. A lot of things could happen.”
» Donovan on the supposed impermissible benefits that Walker was punished for allegedly having received: “Chris is a really, really good kid. I think one of the things that is very difficult in these situations is really whether they know the rules or not. I’m sure Chris didn’t know a lot of those things. I think obviously if Chris knew some of those things were a problem, I would believe he wouldn’t have done those things. When some of those things happened the way they did, it was one of those things that it didn’t happen while he was here, it happened while he was in high school. I knew there were some impermissible benefits involved; I didn’t know to detail or what they were or how much or any of those other things.”
» Donovan on players like Walker being aware of impermissible benefits: “I think Chris certainly was probably a little taken back that some of those things were an issue. I don’t know what we could do to try and help more kids – there’s a lot of kids out there – but Chris just happened to be one of those guys that got put to the forefront. … You don’t want to see anybody have to go through what Chris went through. I think it’s been a trying time for him. Like I said, I’m just happy that he’s moving forward. We tried to let the NCAA do their job and let the school handle it. We just tried to get prepared and ready to play games. I’m just happy he’s cleared and he’s able to play.”
» Young on Walker getting ready for his first game: “It’s probably a 15 on a scale of 1-10 how excited he is right now.”
» Young on how Walker can help immediately: “Energy, that’s the number [one] thing. He is definitely a guy who brings a lot of energy, very similar I guess to myself as a freshman as far as running, jumping around, being active and grabbing a bunch of boards. As far as that, you shouldn’t have too high expectations. This is the guy’s first college game he gets to play in and we’ll see how he does from there.”
» Young on Walker keeping his head through all the hype: “[We have] just taken Chris under our wing and just [let] him to know that we are here with him and supporting him through this whole process. If he needs to talk to anyone, we’re here for him. Just again, just to let him know he’s not here by himself.”
» Redshirt sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith on Walker as a player: “He’s a great player. He has a lot of energy; he’s athletic. He can jump out the gym. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for him, he gets to play. But we’ve got a game to win.”
» Finney-Smith on how Walker has been a challenge to deal with in practice: “He’s got a lot of energy. He’s still aggressive on the boards too just like me. He’s willing to learn, too. Everything. Anything. … He said, ‘You might have to talk me out through this whole play.’ He really wants to learn the game of basketball.”