Once he’d reached the point academically to where he could join the Florida basketball program in December, the question for McDonald’s All American forward Chris Walker revolved around when he would be eligible to take the floor in game action. Without an answer from the NCAA, many (player and program, included) were left to wonder just how long the entire process would take.
On Wednesday it was reported by Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com that Walker has been cleared for game action. Later in the afternoon the NCAA released a statement that Walker will be eligible to play on February 4, meaning that Walker will miss 12 games before stepping onto the court for head coach Billy Donovan.
So why 12 games? The NCAA explained that in its press release:
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.
In July 2012 the grassroots program that Walker (and fellow Gator Kasey Hill) played for, the Florida Rams, was one of four programs banned from participating in NCAA sanctioned summer events due to its ties with an agent. The program was rebranded as Florida Elite and therefore allowed to compete in those events.
With that all being taken care of, what does Walker’s addition mean for the SEC’s best team? Walker gives Florida another athletic big man to call on, and given his status as a McDonald’s All American it’s clear that he doesn’t lack for talent.
But to expect greatness immediately would be unfair given how long it has been since he’s played in game action, and he’s yet to play a single game at the college level as well. And with experienced players such as Dorian Finney-Smith, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young, Florida’s been just fine without Walker. The presence of those players allows coach Donovan and his staff to take their time with Walker, allowing him and his teammates to become better acquainted in game situations as opposed to practice).
Even with the need to exercise caution when forming expectations for Walker in regards to his impact, there’s no doubt that the Gators became even better with this ruling.