Freshman power forward Chris Walker announced Wednesday that he intends to skip the 2014 NBA Draft, continue playing college basketball and return to the Florida Gators as a sophomore for the 2014-15 season.
“This year has been a great one, and I’m happy to say I will be joining the gatornation again for one more year!” he wrote Wednesday afternoon on Twitter.
Walker, an athletic frontcourt player who joined the team in mid-December after being declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, did not play his first game until Feb. 4 while serving an NCAA suspension for accepting impermissible benefits.
He averaged 4.8 minutes over the 18 games he did play, amassing a grand total of 34 points, 24 rebounds and eight blocks on the season.
As he neither went through the offseason strength and conditioning program nor spent the summer and fall practicing with the team, Walker was far behind when he eventually became eligible for the Gators.
His length and athleticism were apparent in his rebounding and shot blocking, but he often rushed shots when getting post touches and was considered a liability on defense.
“For him, it’s going to be a process,” head coach Billy Donovan said on March 26.
“There’s a lot of things that he needs to learn. There’s a lot of growth that he needs. He needs to get physically stronger. He missed a whole summer and fall of lifting. He really missed the whole summer and fall of conditioning. He’s been a great kid to coach. He keeps working and getting better, but he’s got a long road ahead of him to get to the level that he needs and wants to get.”
Nevertheless, Walker was the only player on Florida’s 2013-14 roster projected to be a first-round selection in the upcoming NBA Draft due to his tremendous upside. The former five-star recruit was projected as a lottery selection before his freshman campaign exposed some flaws in his game and development.
Returning to the Gators for a second (first full) season will give Walker the opportunity to improve his game and boost his draft stock immensely by the time the selection process rolls around again in June of 2015.
“I want to get both mentally and physically stronger and work on all aspects of my game to make me the best player possible,” he told Florida’s school website after making his announcement. “It will give me an opportunity to build my body and get more one-on-one work with my coaches and put me in the position to not only start next season but be a main factor.”
Indeed, Walker can be penciled in to start at center for the Gators in 2014-15 with redshirt junior Damontre Harris, who was dismissed from the team in the fall before returning after Thanksgiving, likely serving a reserve role.
With Florida losing four starting seniors – a class that helped the program advance to three-straight Elite Eights (2011-13) and a Final Four (2014) – to graduation, Walker’s return is a huge boost. The Gators will also be bringing back starting sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, freshman point guard Kasey Hill and sophomore G/F DeVon Walker, among others.
Finney-Smith and Hill will both move into starting roles.
— Will Yeguete (@Will15Yeguete) April 9, 2014
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press