Sophomore center Chris Walker, a highly-touted five-star prospect who struggled to make an impact in two years with the Florida Gators, has decided to leave the team to try his hand at becoming a professional basketball player.
Walker has officially declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, joining junior guard Michael Frazier II, who left the program weeks ago. Walker’s declaration comes two days before the NBA’s Sunday draft declaration deadline.
“I want to thank the coaching staff, my teammates and everyone at Florida for my experience here,” Walker said in a school release. “I’m excited to continue pursuing my dream of playing professionally.”
Ranked as one of the top 10 players in the country coming out of Bonifay High School, Walker struggled to become academically eligible for the Gators as a true freshman. He worked diligently on his grades during the offseason and earned that eligibility for the 2013-14 spring semester but missed additional games while working through an NCAA rules violation.
Coming off the bench for a Florida team that made it to the Final Four, Walker averaged just 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.8 minutes per game that season. He was expected to truly develop in the offseason ahead of the 2014-15 campaign and play a major role for a Gators team in drastic need of frontcourt help.
Instead, Walker missed the first two games of the regular season while suspended for a violation of team rules and failed to show any consistency on the court, averaging 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 14.6 minutes per game despite being one of two centers on the roster. His inability to develop and become the post presence that UF needed was one reason for the team’s struggles last season.
“Chris has been a pleasure to coach,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “He is a great kid with a lot of potential, and everyone here wishes the absolute best for him.”
Multiple sources told OnlyGators.com at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season that Walker’s future at Florida was up in the air. The player never planned to spend more than two years with the Gators, but his struggles to comprehend his coaches’ desires, coupled with his overall lack of production, led him to understand that he probably needs more fine-tuning before trying his hand at playing the game professionally.
However, two sources also told OnlyGators.com that multiple non-basketball factors – including academics – would heavily influence his decision at season’s end, almost assuredly leading to his splitting with the program.
His departure from Florida was nearly a foregone conclusion, the only choice he had to make was whether to continue his career in college or as a professional, whether in the United States (NBA, NBA D-League) or overseas.
Walker joined the Gators with an AAU teammate and fellow five-star prospect in point guard Kasey Hill. His departure leaves Florida with the necessary space to provide scholarships for its entire four-member 2015 signing class.
Update: Walker released a statement on Instagram later Friday after the announcement was officially made.
”I would like to thank the University of Florida, Coach Billy Donovan and the entire Gator Coaching Staff, all of my teammates, and the Gator Fans in Gainesville and all around the country for their support over the past 2 years. I have been struggling with the decision to stay in school or make the jump to the NBA over the past month. After meeting with my family, I have decided to forgo my final 2 years in college, and enter the 2015 NBA Draft. I have dreamed of playing in the NBA since I picked up a basketball, and now I have the opportunity to make that dream come true. I will always cherish the life long memories on the University Florida campus with my friends and teammates and I’m proud to be a Gator for Life.”
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press