Next for Chris Walker: NBA or Donovan process?

By Adam Silverstein
March 27, 2014

One way or another, the 2014 NCAA Tournament comes to an end in less than two weeks and a number of Florida Gators will need to sit down and evaluate their basketball-playing careers at that time.

That future remains somewhat decided for Florida’s four seniors, all of whom will first look to the NBA but almost certainly play professional basketball somewhere next season.

A number of other Gators will have a variety of options on the table.

Junior guard Eli Carter must determine whether he believes he will physically be able to play next season when he will be 19 months removed from a broken leg. Sophomore G Dillon Graham, coming off surgery for bone spurs in his hips, will also have to reevaluate his situation at Florida. Even if completely healthy, will he see much playing time in 2014-15 after an infusion of talent arrives at UF in the fall?

Then there’s the five-star freshmen. Though it was point guard Kasey Hill who opened the season as a starter and has seen extensive playing time throughout the campaign, leaving early for the NBA does not appear to be in his cards at this time.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is power forward Chris Walker, who has averaged 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in just 5.1 minutes over the 15 games he has played since joining the team late and first taking the court on Feb. 4.

Once considered a sure-fire lottery selection, Walker’s sometimes-haphazard play and lack of collegiate practice time (just over three months) has exposed holes in his game.

Scouts now have questions about whether he could even be a productive rookie – and therefore a worthwhile first-round selection – which has most projecting the draft mocking him in the 20-30 range based purely on athleticism and upside.

As it turns out, Gators head coach Billy Donovan feels the same way.

“For him, it’s going to be a process,” Donovan said Wednesday.

“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.”

For Walker, who was raised by his grandmother until she passed away before being taken in by a guardian at the age of 12, accepting that the long road could include another year of college rather than an immediate NBA paycheck may not be an easy conclusion to reach. In fact, it may not be one he is capable of arriving at on his own.

Donovan will sit down with Walker at the end of the season and explain why the big man should stay at Florida.

He’ll spell out why another year of development under one of the best coaching staffs in the nation could raise Walker’s NBA stock enough to where he’ll drafted earlier, make more money on his first contract and have a greater chance of establishing a long NBA career by not being forced to cut his teeth as a 19-year-old playing against grown men.

“I think his individual talent in terms of running and jumping, shot-blocking, there’s things that he’s very, very gifted at that come easy to him,” Donovan explained. “But I also think the days of standing in the lane in a high school game and daring people to come down the lane and blocking shots, those days are over with now.

“Now, he’s got to worry about screening action, being screened, guarding pick and rolls, guarding big guys that shoot, being in the right spot. There’s a lot that goes into that I think he even himself sometimes has been overwhelmed by.”

Donovan has consistently praised Walker for his disposition and work ethic. He believes the well-hyped forward has displayed a great attitude and done his best to help the team despite not seeing significant playing time.

What comes next for Walker will be more difficult than joining the No. 1 team in the nation in the middle of the season. It will be tougher than getting his grades to a level where he be allowed by the NCAA to step foot on a college basketball court. It may even be harder than growing up with a family that consistently faced tremendous financial adversity.

Can Walker see the bigger picture Donovan envisions for him, one of improvement and development, or is the lure of an NBA contract and the potential opulence that comes with it too much to keep at an arm’s length, even if just for one more season?

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press


  1. SW FL Joe says:

    I’m not sure the coaching staff will remain intact and that could be a factor also

  2. Gatoralum88 says:

    Billy can point to PLENTY of examples of big men who have stayed in school & gone on to have long & successful careers (Bonner, Haslem, Lee) & one cautionary tale (Harvey) who was rated higher than all of them, taken in the 1st-round after a productive freshman year (unlike Walker) only to end up out of the league before he was 25. I just googled Donnell Harvey only to find out he;s currently a member of something called the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters in China. Yikes!

    • Ken (CA) says:

      Lee didn’t stay in school, in fact, he walked out in the middle of a season.ther cautionary tale would be Speights.

      • Gatoralum88 says:

        You’re thinking of Christian Drejer. David Lee had very good 4-year Gator career! In fact, I was at his senior day. Frankly, Walker hasn’t earned comparisons to either Harvey or Speights as far as cautionary tales go. He’s not nearly as good as either one at the same stage & he’d lower the bar even further if he were to leave early. This season, whenever Walker has come in for Young, as I’m sure you’ve seen, there’s been a noticeable (& disappointing) drop-off. Harvey was the “X-factor” off the bench on that 2000 team that made its run to the finals & when Mo came in for Al & Joakim as a freshman he was A LOT better. In fact, one of Mo’s best games as a freshman was in the NCAA tourney! (16 pts 6 rebs in 10 minutes of garbage time vs Jackson St.). Walker has been practically a bust this season.

        Also, I thought Mo was a very good starter as a sophomore (averaging 14 pts & 8 rebs) & while I’d have loved to see him stay even longer the “rumor du jour” at the time was that he’d have been academically ineligible had he stuck around which is why he left. I doubt there’s any way to substantiate that but I remember that being out there back then. At least when he left he had an NBA body (unlike Walker) & despite leaving early he’s managed to become a solid back-up now in his 6th year in the league. lists his career earnings at over $15 million. Also, Walker doesn’t have nearly the offensive skill-set Harvey or Mo had when they left.

        Bottom line, if Walker decides to leave, he may be a 1st-round pick but I doubt he’ll be around after his rookie contract runs out & likely playing for something called the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters! BTW, I was wrong slightly in my earlier post. Harvey is no longer with the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters & they’re in the Philippines not China. Double-yikes! IMO, Walker DEFINITELY needs to stay, move into the weight room, & continue to develop his game!

        • Ken (CA) says:

          You’re right about Lee, I was thinking of the wrong person. The cautionary tale I am thinking of is not how they are performing at this level, but how they left this level too early to chase the cash and have had very mediocre careers at best when they might have been stars with more build up in fundamentals and playing time to succeed at the next level.

          If Walker were to leave now, you are right he wouldn’t even be at nearly the level they were, but that on top of it should be added evidence to him that moving on couldn’t possibly be in his best interest

  3. Kerwin4two says:

    I think the easier analogy to Walker’s situation is Speights, who was barely on the floor as a Freshman but was a starter as a Sophomore and ended up just outside the NBA lottery when he turned pro after his Soph season. Speights is still in the league making around $4MM a year coming off the bench. Speights deficiencies were – and still are – on the defensive end. He has a pure jump shot and is serviceable on defense. Walker is not nearly the polished offensive player that Speights was at this stage in his career but he is a much better defender. Will be interesting to see where the NBA projects him when he submits his paperwork this spring (he most assuredly will). He will have the opportunity to return if he is not projected to go high enough.

    • Walker can block shots. His defense remains severely lacking.

      • Tractorr says:

        And a lot of that lack is because of his lack of strength. If he stays he gets a year of conditioning and gets to work on his game. If he goes he will work on his conditioning but I doubt he sees the court much his first year, and who knows if he gets traded if he is on a team with a better option etc. Seems to me staying for a year is a better option but I don’t have millions in the balance so what do I know.

        • Some of it is his size. A lot of it is inexperience against complex offenses and playing in complex defensive schemes.

          • Tractorr says:

            Only another reason to stay. Good luck trying to pick that stuff up when you aren’t in games that much and when you are it is against the best and most athletic players in the world. I really hope he makes the smart move and sticks around. It would be heart breaking to some day look back and remember about what could have been with Chris Walker.

          • Ken (CA) says:

            I think a lot of that as well is finally playing against competition that can challenge him rather than be intimidated just by him standing at the rim. Just getting experience against competition that will make himwork to get the kind of results he got in HS will be invaluable to his value moving forward.

            Great write up. There isn’t really anything new here for those of us that have been watching, but it puts it all together in a single coherent posting. In a nutshell, everyone around looks at him and knows that another year in college will greatly increase his upside earnings and make him more likely to be a true impact player right from the start, but can he resist the big paycheck and see the long term benefit of 1 more year in college?

            If he is as coachable and has the attitude as Billy says, I believe ultimately he will understand what is best for him and why and come back. Even with the 4 seniors leaving, having Casey and Chris back along with Frazier, Finney-Smith, Harris (if he gets it), the new signees, what a powerhouse team we will have. May not have the overall experience we have this year, but they will have come up under those guys and the talent level will actually be higher than it currently is!

            • Yeah, it’s nothing new in terms of information.

              The value in the post is Billy Donovan’s opinion on the situation…basically doing everything but saying “this kid would be crazy if he left and did not stay another year.”

              • gatorboi352 says:

                Good point. I’m sure the seniors have been in his ear already, but to know Donovan is doing his work in letting him know what’s best will go far, I believe.

              • Ken (CA) says:

                The great thing about that as well is Donovan has built a reputation for good advice. Beal could have gained more for staying another year, but wouldn’t have gained significantly, already being a top 3 pick. When they are ready he tells them to go for it, when they aren’t he lets them know. It is never about the team in those regards it is about what is best for the individual.

  4. Marlex says:

    With so many questions surrounding the readiness of even the guaranteed lottery picks, it would benefit Walker to stay, especially since he has so little college film to show. But either way it’s his decision and I wish him the best.

  5. gatorboi352 says:

    Well, Walker did tweet this last week:

    Chris Walker ‏@cwalkertime23 Mar 18
    I’m on a mission , I got dreams worth more than money !

    Take it as you will!

  6. 305Gator says:

    I’ll preface my comment by saying that I do not pretend to be an NBA scout while at the same time I do not know Walker’s financial situation. Now it seems pretty obvious to me that Walker is not remotely ready for the NBA. it only seems logical to me that he would return, take advantage of a full offseason , play a whole year and then move on. Same thing with Hill. But what do I know I’m just a homer fan. Go Gators!

  7. Michael Jones says:

    I love Chris Walker. Love his attitude. Love his upside, demeanor, potential, competitive fire. . . but it’s almost unfathomable to me that we’re even having this discussion. Equally unfathomable that any scout would consider him a 1st round selection, ANYWHERE in the 1st round. Seems pretty obvious that he needs at least another year of conditioning, strength training, and learning to play the game at a high level (collegiate high. . forget about NBA high). Right now he gets eaten alive by any big man who takes the ball to him. Who in the heck is he going to cover in the NBA?

    HOWEVER, if he gets assurances that he’ll be picked somewhere in the 1st round, all things considered, hard to imagine him staying. . as short-sighted as that would be both for Chris and the team picking and paying him.

    • Ken (CA) says:

      Not really that unfathomable when you consider he was considered an automatic “1 and done” when recruited and certain NBA lottery pick and future star. He himself stated when he was recruited expected only 1 year, and none of the scouts doubted for a second. A lot of things have changed in a year with not being able to practice, limited play time, etc., but the discussion has to be held considering even just on ego considering he expected to be in the draft this year, his ego may still tell him to go even though to the rest of the world obviously shouldn’t

      I don’t know the kid, don’t know what kind of ego he has, if any, although few winners in competitive anything don’t have big egos, part of what drives them. If his pride overrules his common sense, he could very easily choose to give it a go. rather than “looking like a fool” to his posse of hangers on waiting for him to make the big bucks.

      As long as he has a stable support foundation rather than a lot of grubby hands feeding him advice, he should be fine, otherwise anything could happen

      • Michael Jones says:

        Yeah, I know what he was considered. And I know what we’ve all seen on the court. Like I said, unfathomable.

        I thought tonight was his best game, though. He definitely looks like he’s coming alive and coming on just when we need him most.

  8. Michael Jones says:

    Check out Donnell Harvey. Same deal. Left too soon. Undeveloped. Late 1st round pick on “athleticism.” He was out of the NBA after 5 years. And he was MORE developed than Chris is now.

  9. Spike says:

    I think Donnell also had a kid or two and was like a year older than most college freshmen.

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