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February 3, 2014
Chris Walker set to debut Tuesday
Chris Walker will officially become part of Florida's 2013-2014 team at some point during Tuesday night's game against Missouri. This is opposed to the sideshow storyline he has been for the better part of the last eight months.
For the first time since last March, he'll play an organized basketball game that counts in terms of a win-loss record.
"I'm excited for him, but this is not about him now," Billy Donovan said. "This is about our team playing Missouri tomorrow, and that's where our focus needs to be. I get a lot of people being enthusiastic or excited about him having the chance to play."
A little less than 34 before tip-off, Donovan said he wasn't entirely sure what Walker's role would be against Missouri. It's no surprise he spent the early part of his Monday press conference doing what he has been doing since Walker arrived on campus Dec. 14 - downplaying his importance.
It is likely most reasonable to believe Walker will see somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes in his first collegiate game, but stranger things have happened.
"The expectations on him as a player are way, way up here, and he can't reach them. He can't. I just want people to know," Donovan said. "This is not going to be a guy that tomorrow 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."
Also less than clear - despite a lengthy release from the NCAA last week - has been the nature of the infractions acquired by Walker during his AAU career that led to a 12-game suspension after Walker arrived late to UF because of academic issues. Donovan has been uncharacteristically hesitant to comment on the background of Walker's situation, primarily citing a lack of complete knowledge of everything that happened. He even said he has not read the NCAA's report as recently as Friday.
The violations are a lengthy list: travel accommodations for nine trips - eight of which to see Walker play AAU basketball - for those close to him, cell phones, apparel, airfare, lodging, meals and money from five people including two agents.
"The administration here told me, 'Listen, they can't discuss anything with you. They're looking at the things that took place while he was not here. It doesn't involve the University of Florida or us recruiting him. It's other things,'" Donovan said. "Again, I think Chris in a certain standpoint probably was little bit taken back that some of those things were an issue. I don't know what we can do to try to help more kids, but it's a tough thing because I do think in a lot of ways, there's a lot of kids out there. Chris just happened to be one of those guys that kind of got brought to the forefront."
Donovan pointed to a lack of awareness of rules on the part of Walker and his support group, including Jeannine Campbell, his legal guardian, who Donovan praised as a caretaker of Walker but admitted she probably didn't have an eye for infractions.
"To sit there and say it's the adults fault, I'm not so sure that even a lot times the adults knew a lot of the rules, nor is it their responsibility to know the rules. Heck, there's high school institutions that don't even know the rules," Donovan said. "That's nobody's fault. It's probably difficult for the NCAA to educate an entire nation. They try to do the best they can when they can. But at the same point, I don't want to say the adults are to blame in this and those kinds of things. Because I think there are a lot of people who have done a lot of great things for Chris for the right reasons."
Regardless of the past, Walker will see the floor Tuesday and, for once, the talk about him might revolve more around what he can do on the floor than what he has accepted off of it.
"The one thing that's really exciting about Chris is just how humble and how likable of a guy he is," senior center Patric Young said. "A guy that can come in as a McDonald's All-American and all the accolades he has could come in here and have a little bit of an ego, but it hasn't been like that with him at all. You just feel for a guy that's a good guy as well, a good person, that finally gets something he's been dreaming to do, finally play his first college game. We're all excited for him just to enjoy that moment with him."
-- ETC. --
- Senior forward Casey Prather (ankle) did not practice Sunday for precautionary reasons as he continues to deal with soreness. He was expected back at practice Monday and will play Tuesday.
- Sophomore guard DeVon Walker (hip pointer) will be "full-go" Tuesday after missing Saturday's game. "Going into the game the trainer said he's available, but it would be better if you can get through the game without playing him," Donovan said. "With the way the game was going I did not see a need to kind of put him in harm's way."