GAINESVILLE — Back in 2007, when Florida coach Billy Donovan was recruiting Erving Walker, he wasn't sure what to expect.
After Donovan secured an unexpected late signing of point guard Jai Lucas, he reached out to Walker to ascertain if his feelings about attending Florida had changed.
Lucas was a heralded prospect. Walker was the undersized kid (5 feet 8) from New York whose high school coach lured Donovan to the Big Apple to see him play through his close friendship with Donovan's father.
"When … we signed Jai Lucas, I think a lot of people told Erving that this would be a bad fit — too much depth, too many guards — and you need to reopen your recruitment," Donovan said.
"But when he and I had a conversation, he was great. He just basically said, 'You know what, Coach? Wherever I go, I've got to compete, and I have no problem competing. I just want an opportunity.' "
Admittedly, Walker, now 22, had no idea what he was walking into.
"I really didn't know what to expect, so I just tried to come in and work my hardest and just let the chips fall where they may," Walker said. "And I think it worked out pretty good for me."
Indeed it has.
Lucas transferred to Texas after one season.
Meanwhile, Walker has scored the fourth-most points in program history and recorded the most assists. He is the SEC's active leader in minutes played (4,133), ranks second in points (1,707), 3-pointers (276), assists (519) and free throws made (419) and ranks third in steals (152).
This afternoon, he will walk onto the O'Connell Center court with his family to be recognized as the only remaining member of his signing class, then take on the daunting task of trying to lead the Gators to a victory one last time at home — against the nation's No. 1 team, Kentucky.
"I know it's going to be a pretty tough game against Kentucky," he said. "So I'm just trying to get ready for that."
And true to his low-key demeanor, don't expect him to be overcome with emotion.
"I'll be all right. I'll be fine," Erving said. "I'm not going to cry or anything."
In his defense, Walker does have bigger things to worry about. Had Florida defeated Georgia (5-11 in the SEC) on Feb. 25, it already would have clinched the No. 2 seed for this week's SEC tournament. Instead, it must win today to be No. 2.
That won't be easy, even at home. The Gators are 14-1 at the O'Connell Center this season but have lost four of their past seven overall. Kentucky looks to cap a perfect conference season and has won 21 in a row. It's the first time UF has hosted a No. 1 team in the O'Connell Center, which opened in 1980.
"Regardless of any league, to be able to go undefeated, obviously, they've got a terrific team," Donovan said. "They are gifted. They have good chemistry. They have length, size, shot-blocking, guys who can shoot. They really have a lot of answers to just about everything that gets thrown at them."
When it's all over, not just today's game, but his career, Walker will leave Florida with a degree in sports management and a legacy he hopes will reflect he gave it the best he had.
Asked how he'd like to be remembered, Walker replied: "Just a tough kid that played his heart out for Florida."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]