No. 16 Florida takes on No. 15 Memphis Tuesday night at 9 in Kansas, but it was a 6-foot-10 freshman who will not play in that game who was the hot topic of the day Monday around the Gators' practice facility.
Chris Walker, 2013 five-star prospect and the former No. 6 recruit in college basketball, began practice with Florida Saturday after being admitted to UF following the completion of the fall semester. He has still not been cleared by the NCAA to play and that's not the only thing holding him back as he waits to begin his career as a Gator.
"He is going to find out just how far behind he really is," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "There is obviously a lot of attention with him coming into school, but I think the one thing that people have got to realize is the (idea) that he is going to come in here and totally change our team; that is the furthest thing from the truth. He's got such a long way to go and it's not his fault."
Unlike Kasey Hill, the only other freshman on the Gators' roster, Walker will have to acclimate to game speed in a short amount of time. Hill arrived at Florida in June with months to prepare before he was placed in the starting lineup of his first collegiate game at point guard.
Walker has worked out individually while waiting for his academic admission into Florida to play out, but he has not worked with teammates or been permitted the luxury of true practices. Unlike most freshmen, he has no one in a similar situation as himself to lean on. Hill has quickly grown past a number of the learning experiences that Walker will soon deal with.
"Chris is kind of on an island by himself," Donovan said. "It's going to be a process for him, and I hope he doesn't get frustrated, and I hope people realize he's not going to be the savior and all of a sudden just change our team. I'm just happy to have a body, happy that he's able to participate. I'm happy for him more than anything else.''
Hill and Walker are roommates, familiar with one another from their time playing AAU together. Walker will not travel to Tuesday night's game against Memphis in New York City, and Donovan remains uncertain of when he will be able to play.
"He obviously hasn't been here all semester, but we're trying to make sure he fits in and feels comfortable," senior forward Will Yeguete said.
-- ZERO EXPECTATIONS --
The vibe around former South Carolina transfer and center Damontre Harris has been grim ever since it was made public that he has not practiced with the Gators or been a part of the team all season. Harris has been asked to stay away from the team for undisclosed reasons, though Donovan has mentioned not going to class as a major issue.
Nothing is getting better.
"He has shown no signs of wanting to do the things necessary to come back," Donovan said. "So I really don't know what his plans would be or where he'll go. but right now. I don't ever anticipate him playing here at Florida.''
-- WILBEKIN HONORED --
After putting up a career-high 18 points to go along with six assists and four steals in a 67-61 victory against Kansas, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.
"I want him to be aggressive offensively, but the other part is when he gets in there, he's got to make good decisions," Donovan said. "The last game against Kansas, I thought he did a good job of that."