Having lost back-to-back games, the No. 13/16 Florida Gators will play their regular season finale on Sunday at noon, hosting the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats on Senior Day for point guard Erving Walker. With Florida looking to bounce back from two tough losses and Walker looking to go out on a high note, he and head coach Billy Donovan spoke on Friday about the upcoming contest.
WALKER CELEBRATING SENIOR DAY
As the lone senior on the Gators’ basketball team, Walker will be trying to go out with a bang on Sunday against the Wildcats. There would be no greater send-off for him by his teammates than Florida knocking off the top-ranked team in the country on their home court to close out the regular season.
Walker – even with his mother, father and cousin in the stands – said he is not likely to be emotional on Sunday (“I’m not going to cry or anything”) and that the only thing he is thinking about is the match-up. “I just know it’s going to be a pretty tough game against Kentucky, so I’m just trying to get ready for that,” he said.
While speaking with the media on Friday, Donovan recounted a story about Walker’s recruitment, one that he said he will always remember to this day.
“The one thing that impressed me with him when he came here was when we lost Taurean Green to the draft, we didn’t necessarily have a backup point guard,” he said. “When I told Erving that we needed to go after another point guard, and obviously we signed Jai Lucas, a lot of people told Erving that this would be a bad fit, too much depth, too many guards, you need to reopen your recruitment. When he and I had that conversation, he was great, he just basically said, ‘You know what coach? Wherever I go I’m going to have to compete and I have no problem competing. I just want an opportunity.’”
Walker did exactly that with the Gators – he was given an opportunity and made the most of it. As Donovan eloquently summed it up: “He’s had an incredible career for a guy his size. It’s pretty impressive.”
He has played more minutes (4,133), handed out more assists (519) and taken more three-pointers (723) than any other player in school history. Walker is also No. 4 on the all-time scoring list (with the No. 3 spot in reach), No. 2 in threes made (with No. 1 in reach) and No. 6/8, respectively, in games played (137) and started (106). He has the opportunity to play more games than any other UF player except Walter Hodge (151) if Florida performs well in their two upcoming tournaments.
Walker said Friday that he wants to be remembered in a simple manner: “A tough kid that played his heart out for Florida.” Though he said that he would not change anything about his career with the Gators, one game in particular stood out to him as both the high and low point he experienced while wearing orange and blue.
“Actually making it all the way to the Elite Eight was a really high moment,” he said, “and actually losing that game was one of the lowest points in my career.”
He will graduate with a degree in sports management though his immediate future after school remains a mystery. Walker will obviously want to play in the NBA, but the likelihood of that is not necessarily high considering his size. As he put it on Friday, the unexpected is not something that bothers him now, just as it didn’t when he committed to Florida with two point guards in front of him on the roster.
“I really didn’t know what to expect so I just tried to come in and work my hardest and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “I think it worked out pretty good for me but coming into college I really had no idea what to expect.”
CAN FLORIDA TAKE DOWN OF THE NATION’S NO. 1?
“With our team, our margin for error is not great. With that being said, whether or not perception-wise people feel like we got to make shots, not make shots or how that affects us, there are still a lot of things from a discipline standpoint that we have to be better at,” Donovan explained.
“Our guys need to continue to grow and mature. The effort of how hard [they played Tuesday] in relationship to how it was in Athens was night and day. Same kids, same team, totally different [effort] on a somewhat quick turnaround playing Saturday-Tuesday. That’s only part of it. Then there’s the discipline of doing collectively the right things. Sometimes we’ve done that and sometimes we haven’t.”
Donovan pointed to Florida not boxing out well against Kentucky the last time the teams squared off and failing defensively to contain a team with better size, length and speed than their own. He thinks the Gators have improved in some of those areas, especially recently, but whether or not that will be enough for an upset win remains a big unknown.
“There’s things we’re doing better now than maybe we were doing a week ago, but we still have some growth [to go] and need to learn to play with the personnel we have now,” he said.
Be sure to check OGGOA on Sunday before the contest begins for the Gameday Preview!