Being smart with Walker

Being smart with Walker

Billy Donovan isn't interested in the hype. He understood the fanfare and focus surrounding Chris Walker when the five-star freshman was ineligible, but now that he's cleared to make his debut on Tuesday against Missouri, the Florida coach wants the focus on his entire team -- not just the former high school All-American.

"Right now, there should be no attention to Chris because it's about our team," Billy Donovan said. "He's now a part of our team. He needs to be in a role with our team that however he can contribute and help our team -- that's the most important thing."

It's not a lesson Donovan has been forced to preach to Chris Walker. Since the freshman made it to campus in Gainesville, he hasn't been selfish and has tried to help the team in any way possible. That has remained the freshman's mindset going into his collegiate debut.

"He's a humble kid," Donovan said. "He understands that coming in he has to do whatever he can to help, whether that's three minutes, two minutes, ten minutes or twenty minutes. It's all going to be predicated on how he's doing and what he's doing to help our team with foul trouble, fatigue and those things. Chris is no different than any member of our team right now. He's been here for over a month.

"He's caught up somewhat – not fully caught up but he's caught up somewhat – and I'm happy for him that he can now put a uniform on and go out there and play and all this stuff is behind him."

Even while stifling the hype surrounding Walker going into Tuesday, Donovan understands it. The Florida fan base has rallied around Walker through his ineligibility and will likely welcome him to the court with a thunderous ovation when he checks into the game on Tuesday.

Donovan just wants to make sure expectations are realistic, and right now, they aren't. Walker won't have the impact of other freshmen big men like Kansas' Joel Embiid or Kentucky's Julius Randle. It's not because he isn't talented. Walker got to campus in December and is well behind the developmental curve most freshmen experience. His collegiate debut will come three months after most freshmen.

"The expectations on him as a player are way, way up here, and he can't reach them," Donovan said. "He just can't. I just want people to know. 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."

Whenever Walker does get settle into a role on the Florida team and comfortable, the upside is tremendous. Donovan and his coaching staff watched on the recruiting trail as Walker dominated every game he was in with his athleticism and energy. It might not come right -- or at all during this season -- but the Florida staff knows what a special player Walker can become.

"He plays with good energy, he plays with a good motor, he's athletic and can run," Donovan said. "He's a good rebounder. 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."

INJURY REPORT: Florida forward Casey Prather didn't start on Saturday against Texas A&M because of an ankle sprain he suffered on Thursday at Mississippi State. He came off the bench but only played 21 minutes. The senior didn't practice on Sunday but was expected to practice on Monday. He's expected to play against Missouri on Tuesday.

"I don't think it's a major ankle sprain; it's not a high ankle sprain," Donovan said. "He does have some swelling and soreness in it."

Sophomore guard DeVon Walker didn't play on Saturday because of a hip pointer that he injured again at Mississippi State. Donovan said he could've played against Texas A&M, but trainers suggested he not play if the Gators could get away with it. Once the game got out of hand, any chance he had of playing was gone. Donovan expects Walker to play on Tuesday.

"Devon's further along than probably Prather is right now, but he should be full go and should be fine tomorrow," Donovan said.

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