Florida Gators sophomore forward Chris Walker will miss the first three games of the season, including two regular-season contests, while serving a suspension for violation of team rules, head coach Billy Donovan announced on Wednesday.
Donovan also noted that four-star freshman guard Brandone Francis, who OnlyGators.com first reported was cleared academically to enroll at Florida, will sit out the 2014-15 season while he works to improve his grades in order to get approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Walker, who missed the first half of his freshman campaign while working to become academically eligible to compete, is projected to start in the frontcourt for the Gators once he is able to play in his first game. He decided to return for his sophomore campaign rather than try his hand at the NBA Draft a year ago.
“He has worked very, very hard in the weight room. I think the biggest thing, his biggest challenge this year, in my opinion, is going to be his ability to manage expectations,” Donovan said.
“The one thing I admired about him a year ago is here comes a highly-profiled kid coming into our season in the middle of January. … He was an unbelievable teammate last year in terms of understanding the fact that he had missed so much of the summer, non-conference [games], and when he came here, he never once complained about playing time. He wanted to do whatever he could to help. …
“You hear all these expectations and people look at the fact that he has gotten physical stronger and everything else, [yet] he has such a long way to go in terms of being reliable, accountable and disciplined. Those would be the three things that I would say I don’t have a real good grasp on right now, but we’re going to find out.
“Him being reliable on the court to be able to do his job, him being responsible as it relates to his work ethic each and every day and understanding his role. Those are going to be some things where I think he’s going to have to battle some of those expectations because certainly he’s been built and hyped up. …
“I don’t know what kind of impact he’s going to make. I think that he’s going to have to be able to be able to handle that where maybe he’s got his own personal expectation of where he thinks he should be and if he’s not at that level, how is he going to handle that? I think that’s one of the most difficult things to deal with as a coach, when you have players with individual expectations that don’t’ get met with how they’re performing. He’s got to have a realistic expectation. He’s got a long way to go.”
Francis was expected to serve a reserve role at guard.
Florida opens up the 2014-15 campaign at home against William & Mary on Friday, Nov. 14. UF then hosts Miami on Monday, Nov. 17 and Louisiana-Monroe on Friday, Nov. 21.
Walker will be eligible to return for the Louisiana-Monroe contest as he will serve one part of his three-game suspension during UF’s exhibition game against Barry University on Thursday, Nov. 6.
He averaged 1.9 points, 1.3 boards and 0.4 blocks in just 4.8 minutes per game during his freshman season but should see a huge uptick in minutes and opportunity during his sophomore campaign.
“I think, offensively right now, he’s got a long way to go. I don’t necessarily know if he has an offensive go-to game, so to speak,” Donovan said. “He’s a terrific athlete. He’s got a really good motor. He tries to go rebound and chase balls on the glass. He’s a good shot blocker. I think he’s very quick off the dribble, he actually can dive the ball some from the perimeter. But he’s not a great jump shooter, he’s not a great back-to-the-basket player; he’s not a guy you can just throw the ball to and he can go get you a bucket. But I do think there’s a lot of value he can bring into our team.”