Chris Walker

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Florida forward Chris Walker officially entering NBA Draft

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Earlier this week it was reported that the chances of Chris Walker returning to Florida for his junior season were slim, with transferring and declaring for the NBA Draft both being possibilities. Friday afternoon the school announced that that Walker will take his shot at professional basketball, and he joins Michael Frazier II as players who are leaving the program early for the pro ranks.

Walker’s two season in Gainesville weren’t without bumps, as academic issues and the receipt of impermissible benefits kept him off the court in 2013-14 until February. Expected to take a step forward in 2014-15, that did not turn out to be the case for a player who entered a college as an athletic but incredibly raw prospect.

The 6-foot-10 Walker averaged 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season, and he isn’t projected to be selected in the June draft by DraftExpress.

Florida still has a number of options in the front court next season, with veterans Dorian Finney-Smith, Alex Murphy and DeVon Walker all back for another season. The Gators also add USF transfer John Egbunu and freshmen Noah Dickerson and Kevarrius Hayes to their front court rotation.

Report: Chris Walker not expected to return to Florida

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Chris Walker is not expected to return to Florida for the 2015-16 season, according to a report from Scout.com.

It’s unclear whether or not Walker is going to be heading to the professional ranks or transferring to a different program, but it seems clear that he will not be on Florida’s roster come November.

Walker is a former top ten recruit that struggled mightily for the second straight season. As a freshman, he missed the first half of the year and then found himself stuck on the bench for a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country and reached the Final Four. He was a freshman still finding his way behind a talented, experienced front line.

This past season was a different story, however. Walker finished his sophomore season averaging just 4.7 points and 3.5 boards, making him arguably the least-effective top ten recruit we’ve seen since the one-and-done rule was put into effect.

Walker is a sensational athlete, but he’s still learning how to play the game of basketball.

No. 11 Kansas erases an 18-point deficit to beat Florida

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Last season, Florida used its marquee non-conference matchup against Kansas as the starting point of a 30-game winning streak, a run that led the Gators to the 2014 Final Four. More than midway through Friday night’s game against No. 11 Kansas, that result from a season ago looked like it’d be replicated.

The Gators led by 15 at half, with a lead as large as 18 points in the second. However, that 15-point halftime edge turned into a 71-65 win for Kansas, with the Jayhawks outscoring the Gators 47-26 in the second half.

Florida was able to move the ball on offense, assisting on 11 of 15 field goals in the first half and shooting 54 percent from the field. The Gators were also aided by Kansas turnovers, nine total in the first half.

The Jayhawks elected not to walk through the second half as they did the first. They tightened up defensively, holding Florida to only 35 percent shooting over the final 20 minutes, and got a lift offensively from Wayne Selden and Cliff Alexander. The duo scored the first eight points in what turned out to be a 17-0 Kansas run, giving the Jayhawks a 58-52 advantage.

Selden was miserable from the field down in the Orlando Classic, 27 points (7-of-25 shooting) in the three games, albeit three wins. On Friday night, he went for a season-high 21 points, 14 of which came after halftime. He was aggressive getting his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame into the lane, which helped set up his jumper. He knocked down a step-back shot from the top of the key, while also connecting on a pair 3-pointers. Alexander finished with his first double-double — 12 points and 10 rebounds — of his collegiate career. Bill Self’s other heralded freshman Kelly Oubre had two points in limited action again.

While the collapse hands the Gators their fourth loss — more than all of 2013-14 — some positives can be taken away from the defeat for Florida, which only dressed seven scholarship players with Eli Carter out for Friday’s game. They saw better production from Chris Walker, who finished with 12 points and five boards in 15 minutes.

The Jayhawks will look to avoid a slow start on Wednesday, and they’ll have to be. Kansas travels to the Nation’s Capital to pay Georgetown, a team talented enough to be ranked, and one that is looking for a key out-of-conference win after nearly upsetting No. 2 Wisconsin in the Battle 4 Atlantis and given that its win over Florida in the same event doesn’t hold the same weight at the moment.

Florida, on the other hand, welcomes in Yale on Monday. The Gators don’t want to be  another upset victory for the Ivy League contender.

No. 8 Florida needs overtime to defeat Louisiana-Monroe, 61-56

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Until this week, No. 8 Florida hadn’t lost on its home floor in 33 games. Friday night, the Gators almost suffered a second home loss in five days, as Louisiana-Monroe led by a dozen in the first half and later stormed back in the last minute to tie the game and force overtime. However, it was in the extra frame where shorthanded Florida pulled away from a 61-56 victory.

Free throws from Michael Frazier II put Florida up 51-43 with two minutes left, looking like the Gators had avoided the upset bid from their Sun Belt opponent. Nick Coppola had different plan, scoring five of his 11 points in the final 90 seconds — assisting on a 3-point field goal in that span — to force overtime.

Jon Horford had the only Florida field goal in overtime, as the Gators closed out the game from the line.

This was the second time this week, Florida coughed up a late-game lead, only this time the Gators regrouped to pick up a win. On Monday, Miami guard Angel Rodriguez lead the charge, scoring 22 of his 24 points with under nine minutes to play, in a come-from-behind win for the Hurricanes. Blowing a lead to Miami, especially given the zone Rodriguez was in is one thing, but to ULM — even without two starters — is a concern for Florida moving forward.

Following the game, Billy Donovan told reporters in the post-game press conference, “This is the team we’re taking to the Bahamas,” which would mean the Gators are going to the toughest early-season tournament without Dorian Finney-Smith or Eli Carter, who missed Friday’s game with a foot injury. In order to survive that field, the undermanned Florida team will need more out of Kasey Hill, who is shooting 3-of-21 from the field over his last two games with 10 assists and seven turnovers. They’ll also need rely heavily on Chris Walker, who recorded four points and six boards in 25 minutes in his season debut on Friday.

It won’t get easier when Florida returns to campus, as the Gators kick off December with a road game against Kansas.

Florida will have plenty of time to get its full roster on the floor — Duke transfer Alex Murphy isn’t eligible until the second semester — and it’s a long season to sort out its issues, but this week could be the beginning of a tough stretch for Donovan and Co.

College Basketball Talk’s Top 100 Players: Nos. 100-81 #CBTTop100

Derrick Walton Jr. (AP Photo)
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Top 25 Countdown: No. 14 Florida Gators

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 14 Florida.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Billy Donovan

Last Season: 36-3, 18-0 SEC (1st), lost in the Final Four to UConn

Key Losses: Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather

Newcomers: Chris Chiozza, Devin Robinson, Alex Murphy (transfer), Zach Hodskins, John Egbunu (transfer*)

Projected Lineup

G: Kasey Hill, So.
G: Michael Frazier, Jr.
F: Dorian Finney-Smith, Sr.
F: Jon Horford, Sr.
C: Chris Walker, So.
Bench: Eli Carter, Jr.; Alex Murphy, Jr.; Devin Robinson, Fr.; Chris Chiozza, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : The Gators can trot out as much talent on a nightly basis as anyone in the country this side of Kentucky. Four players on the Gator roster are former five-star recruits, headlined by a pair of sophomores that were top ten players in the Class of 2013 in Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. That list also includes former Duke forward Alex Murphy and incoming freshman Devin Robinson, who may just be the best prospect on the roster.

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Michael Frazier (AP Photo)

That’s not the only reason to like the Gators, however, as their young talent is surrounded by a solid group of veteran role players. Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country. Dorian Finney-Smith is a combo-forward that can act as a floor-spacer when his jumper is working. Eli Carter was a big-time scorer at Rutgers and Murphy spent two and a half seasons at Duke before leaving that program.

But they might disappoint because …: Outside of Frazier, there really aren’t many proven commodities on Florida. Walker’s name is near the top of most draft boards thanks to his height and athleticism, but he’s a rail-thin post player that has yet to prove that he can do anything on a basketball court other than run, jump and get suspended from games. Potential does not always equal production.

The same thing can be said about Hill, who has the physical gifts to be an excellent point guard at the college level. But being able to beat a defense end-to-end and being effective if Billy Donovan’s offense, which is loaded with ball-screens, is an entirely different story. Horford played limited minutes at Michigan. Carter was a gun-slinger on bad Rutgers teams and has spent the past 18 months trying to recover from a grizzly broken leg. Murphy couldn’t get off the bench at Duke. Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza are highly-regarded freshmen, but freshmen nonetheless. South Florida transfer John Egbunu has not yet been given a waiver to play immediately by the NCAA.

In simpler terms, outside of Frazier, it’s hard to say definitively what Donovan and his staff can expect out of anyone on this roster.

Outlook: Billy Donovan is one of the best in the game. There’s a reason that he’s always being linked with NBA coaching vacancies. He’s been to three Elite 8s and a Final Four in the last four years. He won back-to-back titles. He knows what he’s doing, which is why Florida will get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the question marks associated with this group.

And, as I mentioned, there are plenty of question marks surrounding this group entering the 2014-2015 season. If everything breaks the right way — if Walker and Hill live up to their potential, if Devin Robinson is as good as advertised, if Murphy can recapture that ability that made Coach K recruit him — I think you’re looking at a team that can legitimately compete with Florida for the SEC regular season title. There’s that much talent on this roster and Donovan is that good of a head coach.

That said, I think Florida also has some flameout potential. I think the Gators are all-but a lock to make it back to the NCAA tournament, but I don’t think it’s out of the question for them to end up losing 10 games, bouncing in and out of the top 25, and entering the dance as a No. 7 seed.