The big news of the weekend for hoops fans in Gainesville was that Florida native and McDonalds All-American Chris Walker was accepted into school.
But it may be a while before Walker actually sees the court.
First things first: he needs to make his was through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center, which is what every incoming freshmen athlete needs to do. Usually, they enroll when Florida isn’t the only place in the country that it is more than 80 degrees. This is standard, although there is no timetable for when he’ll actually make it through.
The other issue is that Walker hasn’t been practicing with the team, and that could actually pose a bigger problem. Most freshmen, regardless of talent level, enter college relatively clueless about the game. They need to learn defensive rotations, offensive sets, different reads for different situations and, most importantly, a feel for how to play with their teammates. That process usually starts during pickup games in the summer and the fall and continues with the start of practice, which was in late September this year.
Walker hasn’t gotten any of that.
“He’s got such a long way to go and it’s not his fault,” head coach Billy Donovan said on Monday. “Obviously when you miss September, October and November and part of December you are going to be really, really behind.”
It will be interesting to see just what kind of impact Walker ends up having.
He’s talented enough to bring another dimension to the Gators if he can figure it all out.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.
Duke is coming off of a national championship but the roster will look almost completely different for the 2015-16 season. That means last season’s approach to things on the offensive and defensive end will have to change and head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned to reporters on Friday how the Blue Devils are still figuring some things out.
“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said to reporters. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.
“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
Without Jahlil Okafor in the middle, Duke’s offense could shift to a mostly perimeter-oriented team, as the wing and guard depth is superior for this year’s group. Coach K and his staff making adjustments to schemes to fit personnel is a nice move from the Hall of Famer, as he’s done a better job in recent years of making adjustments like this after his stint with USA Basketball.
As the program moves on from Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, it’ll be intriguing to see who emerges as a potential go-to offensive player early in the season and how Duke’s offense potentially evolves as the season wears on.