Florida's Walker to make much-anticipated debut
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Billy Donovan has done all he can to quell expectations for highly touted freshman Chris Walker.
Last week, Donovan made it clear that the 6-foot-10 Walker won't be Kevin Garnett this season. On Monday, the coach insisted Walker won't play like Wilt Chamberlain when he makes his debut Tuesday night against Missouri.
But Walker will get on the court for the first time since arriving on campus in mid-December, which should help the third-ranked Gators (19-2, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) as they near the halfway mark of league play and start getting ready for the postseason.
''The expectations on him as a player are way, way up here, and he can't reach them,'' Donovan said. ''He can't. I just want people to know. This is not going to be a guy that you're going to say, `Billy, you really, really downplayed this thing. This guy came out and played like Wilt Chamberlain.' It's not going to happen.
''He's a good player that's got a lot in front of him, a lot of growing and maturing that's got to go on. I really don't know how much he can do. He can go in there and do some really, really good things and really help our team or he could go out there and really be lost in the game and get going too fast and the emotion of the game will overwhelm him.''
Florida has not made Walker available for interviews. School officials anticipate Walker will answer questions after the game.
Donovan gave no indication how much Walker will play against the Tigers (16-5, 4-4), saying it will be ''predicated on what he's doing to help our team with foul trouble, fatigue and those things.''
Teammates said Walker is eager to finally get from under the NCAA cloud and off the bench.
''He's extremely excited,'' center Pat Young said. ''Just think about everything he's gone through. To get to now and it's finally here as far as school, things he had to do over the summer, missing the first semester, finally here and going through practice and then not hearing from the NCAA. It's probably a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10 how excited he is right now.''
A forward from Bonifay in Florida's panhandle, Walker sat out 12 games, or 40 percent of the season, because the NCAA determined he ''received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents.'' The NCAA said Walker and people close to him accepted free cellphones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel while he was a prospect.
He was ordered to donate the $270 received from the agents to a charity of his choice and serve 80 hours of community service.
Walker, who failed to qualify academically and spent the fall taking online classes to gain eligibility, joined the team Dec. 14 and has been practicing since. He is a talented shot-blocker, rebounder and finisher who won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American game last year. Since arriving on campus, he has gained about 10 pounds while learning Donovan's complex offensive and defensive schemes.
But is he ready to make an impact?
''He is definitely a guy who brings a lot of energy ... as far as running, jumping around, being active and grabbing a bunch of boards,'' Young said. ''You shouldn't have too high expectations. This is the guy's first college game he gets to play in and we'll see how he does from there.''
The Gators could use some help.
Forward Casey Prather, the team's leading scorer, has been slowed by a sprained left ankle. And guard DeVon Walker sat out the last game with a hip pointer. Even with both healthy, the Gators have had just eight scholarship players available. Walker makes it nine, adding some much-needed depth and possibly increasing Florida's chances of making another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
''He can be the best runner in the world, the best jumper in the world and the best rebounder in the world, but if he can't do the things inside the game plan of what we need to get done, then it becomes very difficult to play,'' Donovan said.