Florida’s highly-touted but yet-to-be-seen freshman Chris Walker has been cleared by the NCAA, according to a report from Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com.
“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 a statement released by the school.
He is not yet eligible to play, however.
Florida will play three games in the next six days, taking on Mississippi State on Thursday and Texas A&M on Saturday before hosting Missouri next Tuesday. Walker will be allowed to suit up for the game against the Tigers.
Walker was a top ten recruit coming out of high school, but he did not enroll at Florida until after the fall semester due to academic issues that he had in high school. Once he did enroll, he had to wait out what the NCAA determined to be a 12-game suspension. The reason for the suspension was $270 that he had accepted from two different agents as well as free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel. The NCAA also found that individuals close to Walker received airfare and lodging for nine different trips, eight of which were to Walker’s “non-scholastic basketball competitions”.
Frankly, this has actually turned out to be a best-case scenario for the Gators.
Walker will be a boost for this year’s team. He’s an athlete and a playmaker in the front court, one that will be able to provide some depth for Billy Donovan. He’s also been able to practice for a month and a half, which likely means that he should have an understanding of what Florida wants to run and what his role is in the offense and the defense.
But the Gators already look like a national title contender without Walker’s help this season. Donovan isn’t going to mess with what has worked perfectly this season. Walker will be eased into his role, which may be the best news of all for Florida.
If Walker is hidden, for lack of a better term, behind Florida’s already-impressive front line, there’s a good chance that he returns to school for his sophomore season. Based on raw talent alone, he’s a potential first round pick.
It’s not fair that the NCAA’s arcane rules have forced Walker into this situation, but for the Florida program, this process may have actually played out beautifully.