Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gators' Chris Walker savors opportunity to finally play

GAINESVILLE — When Chris Walker walked onto the O'Connell Center floor with 11:28 remaining in the first half of Tuesday's game against Missouri, the roar of the crowd and the reception he received nearly overwhelmed him.

For the freshman from the small Panhandle town of Bonifay, it was a startling introduction to a long-awaited chance to play collegiate basketball for the Gators.

"It lets you know Florida's got one of the best fan bases in the country," Walker said. "They're here to support their players."

His stat line read four points, two rebounds and two blocks in seven minutes. But after everything he had been through to get to that moment, the numbers mattered little.

The 6-foot-10 forward missed 12 games because of NCAA sanctions for impermissible benefits he received from agents and others while in high school and playing AAU ball, including free cellphones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel. He waited nearly two months to find out if the NCAA would allow him to play this season. All that came after Walker had to work to qualify academically and finally enrolled in December.

"I knew it had to end eventually," he said. "I just kept a positive mind and kept working and listening to Coach."

Walker doesn't deny there were third-party influences, but he said he didn't realize at the time he was in violation of NCAA rules.

"I was like 16, 17," he said. "I really had no idea about the rules or anything."

And that, Gators coach Billy Donovan said, is what made Walker's case tough to endure, but by no means unique.

"Chris is a really, really good kid," Donovan said. "I think one of the things that is very difficult in these situations is really whether they know the rules or not. I think obviously if Chris knew some of those things were a problem, I would believe he wouldn't have done those things. … I would imagine in some way there are a lot of kids out there right now that don't know that this is not allowed, that you can't do this, that this is an extra added benefit."

Walker was raised from an infant by his grandmother until her death when he was 12 years old. He was then cared for by various family friends and guardians. Donovan said it's clear Walker and his guardian were naive about NCAA rules.

"Janeen Campbell, who is basically Chris' guardian, is a great lady," he said. "She's done the very, very best job she can to help Chris. She doesn't know the rules. She was kind enough to help out Chris at a time when he was growing up to give him a home and place to grow up, and I respect her a lot. … She was forthright, she was open, she was honest. And I respect Chris from this standpoint: When he had a chance to sit down and speak with them (NCAA officials), he was open and honest and basically told them everything they needed to know, and probably gave them a lot more they weren't even aware of. I respect Chris for that. And I think Janeen did the same thing."

It is that candor and down-to-earth attitude that has quickly endeared Walker to his teammates since he arrived.

"He's a great guy," senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "He's eager to learn, he's humble and he's very teachable as a young guy. He has a lot of potential."

"The one thing that's really exciting about Chris is just how humble and how likable of a guy he is," senior center Patric Young said. "A guy that can come in as a McDonald's All-American and all the accolades he has, could come in here and have a little bit of an ego, but it hasn't been like that with him at all. You just feel for a guy that's a good guy as well, a good person, that finally gets something he's been dreaming to do."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Gators' Chris Walker savors opportunity to finally play 02/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 7, 2014 9:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jordan Spieth wins British Open (w/ video)

    Golf

    SOUTHPORT, England — Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to win the British Open and usher in a new era of golf.

    Matt Kuchar plays out of the bunker on the 18th hole and finishes with bogey for 1-under 69. He had a one-shot lead after 13 holes.
  2. Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

    Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
  3. Wesley Chapel hockey camp impresses youth players, parents

    Lightning Strikes

    WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.

  4. Rays journal: Rays gamble on Sergio Romo's track record, heart

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Some of RHP Sergio Romo's numbers this season with the Dodgers were the worst of his career, yet the Rays feel he can be a good fit for their bullpen.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 26:  Sergio Romo #54 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch in the 9th inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on June 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
  5. Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — There was no "here we go again" moment in the dugout as Rougned Odor's two-run homer in the eighth inning arced across Tropicana Field and toward the rightfield seats, even though when it landed, the score was tied and another late-inning Rays lead was blown.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria heads back to the dugout after fouling out in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on first.