"Free Chris Walker" T-shirts, signs and chants will not be needed for much longer. Florida's five-star freshman forward will be cleared to play when Missouri comes to the O'Connell Center Tuesday for a 9 p.m. game, as first reported by ESPN's Jeff Goodman, who cited sources. UF and the NCAA confirmed the decision Wednesday afternoon.
The news comes after a long wait for Walker, who will have served a 12-game suspension since arriving on campus Dec. 14 after previously being held out for academic reasons. In an NCAA release, the organization explained the reasons for Walker's suspension:
Walker received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents. In addition, Walker will be required to donate the $270 received from the agents to a charity of his choice and serve 80 hours of community service for the remaining benefits received.
According to the facts of the case, which were agreed upon by the university and NCAA staff, when Walker was a prospect, he accepted free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel. Additionally, individuals close to Walker received free airfare and lodging for nine different trips, including eight associated with Walker's non-scholastic basketball team competitions.
"We're glad there's a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris," Florida coach Billy Donovan said in an official statement. "We appreciate everyone's participation in this process, and are ready to move forward."
Per NCAA release, Florida did not file for reinstatement in Walker's case until Jan. 21, around the time reports surfaced that Walker could be cleared for the Jan. 25 game against Tennessee.
"The NCAA membership has expressed continued concern about how third-party influence, improper agent involvement and the role of nonscholastic basketball impact student-athletes and prospects," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, in an official statement. "Out of concern for student-athletes' wellbeing, our members have created rules that limit the involvement of these individuals. The 12 games Mr. Walker was required to sit out reflect the significance of these violations."
A 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward, Walker adds a freak athlete and well-noted rebounder and shot-blocker to Florida's frontcourt arsenal that already has players like Patric Young, Casey Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith and Will Yeguete. Donovan has regularly downplayed Walker's current ability given his lack of time spent with the Gators.
"I appreciate all the support from UF, coach Donovan and my teammates, and I'm looking forward to helping the team any way I can," Walker said in an official statement.
Florida (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) is currently ranked No. 3 in college basketball and riding an 11-game winning streak.