GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gators freshman Chris Walker is going to be a good college player one day, maybe one day soon.
That time has not arrived, despite the anticipation that surrounded Walker’s long-awaited arrival last weekend.
In his short time at UF, the 6-foot-10 Walker, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American and top-10 recruit, has been unsure of himself and overmatched against the Gators’ veterans.
Prior to Tuesday’s 77-75 win against Memphis at Madison Square Garden, coach Billy Donovan told media Walker “got absolutely annihilated by [Florida senior] Patric Young for three days” of practice.
On Thursday, two days before the Gators will face Fresno State in the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Donovan reiterated that Walker is not close to ready for primetime, and he would sit out the game.
“Chris is going to be a very, very good player,” Donovan said. “But he has not played competitive basketball since February. He has been in three practices for us.
“He just hasn’t been around.”
Walker has the physical tools to be a factor as a rebounder and defender for a Gators’ squad lacking interior depth behind Young and power forward Will Yeguete. But Walker failed to qualify academically and missed summer workouts, fall practices and now the first 10 games — and counting — for the No. 16 Gators (8-2).
Walker dominated at Holmes High School, a Class 1A school located in Bonifay on the Florida Panhandle. But he now must learn how to execute a pick-and-roll and make proper rotations on the defensive end.
“He doesn’t know what we’re doing defensively,” Donovan said. “He has no idea what we’re doing offensively. It’s not that he is not going to be able to pick those things up. It’s just going to take him some time.
“The game is going to be a lot more than him utilizing his athleticism.”
Freshman point guard Kasey Hill also has had to learn the game’s nuances since he arrived at UF in July.
Hill, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit himself, has the speed, ballhandling skills and vision to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. He also can play out of control.
Hill was 0 of 3 from the field with three assists and two turnovers during the first half against Memphis but had five second-half points, including his first 3-pointer of the season.
“I give him a lot of credit because he really responded because he wasn’t playing great,” Donovan said. “Then he got in there in the second half and did a lot of good things to help our team and had a lot to do with us going on a run there when the score was close.”
Like Walker, Hill — who starred at Montverde Academy in Montverde — has faced his own challenges, notably missing four games with a high-ankle sprain suffered Nov. 18 against Southern.
“He’s probably 85 or 90 percent,” Donovan said. “I still think he’s hobbled some. He’s healed enough that he’s going to be explosive and fast in the open court, but I don’t know if he’s got that confidence level in his foot like he needs to get back to.”
The Gators’ starting lineup features four seniors and experienced sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II. The development of the two freshmen, Hill and Walker, is the wild card — and could shape UF’s long-term prospects.
When on the court together, Hill and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin give the Gators an explosive duo of ballhandlers and playmakers that can break down a defense.
It remains to be see how Walker integrates with Young once the freshman is ready.
“Its’ going to take our team to a different level,” Donovan said. “It would be great to play him and Patric together some because he is athletic and fast. But we need to get him caught up.”