While the Gators (9-6, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) may be struggling with overall consistency, there is one constant between this year’s team and last: the hype around Chris Walker.
As the hype grows, so have the expectations.
Coach Billy Donovan has been concerned since the start of the regular season with managing the expectations surrounding Walker.
"Chris can’t have some of these expectations be through the roof and then evaluate him and say, well, he’s not reaching or living up to these expectations because it’s almost like the longer a guy is out of sight, out of mind, the more the legend grows," Donovan said. "I’m a lot better player today than I was when I actually played."
Donovan has said Walker has more expectations than any other player he’s coached in his career, but Walker said he doesn’t worry about the expectations. If anything, he said, the expectations push him to be better.
Since coming off a three-game suspension at the start of the season, Walker has played in all of Florida’s games and has started three games in the process.
Since senior center Jon Horford was suspended prior to the South Carolina game, Walker has also been filling in at center court during tip-offs.
Donovan noted the difference between the Walker of today and the freshman year Walker is "night and day."
Last season, Walker missed most of the regular season with eligibility issues
He didn’t make his official debut until Florida’s 68-58 win against Missouri on Feb. 4.
In the 18 games he played last year, including post-season, Walker averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds.
This season, Walker was only three games late to the start.
He is averaging 16.8 minutes per game, 4.1 rebounds and 5.8 points.
While he’s seen growth and improvement from the young but developing starter, Donovan still sees room for improvement.
But all the responsibility of improvement does not fall solely on Walker.
"I’ve got to do a better job to get him to understand how to do a better job playing in and around the basket. He’s got to be doing a better job finishing plays around the basket and I’ve got to do a better job coaching that," Donovan said.
"I’ve tried to, but I’m not getting through like I need to get through. I’ve got to do a better job helping because he needs to be more efficient down there with his length, athleticism, size and those kind of things."
The hype around Walker is compounded by the talk of ending his Florida career early — as early as after this season — to enter the NBA.
At the start of the 2014-2015 season, Walker said he debated and discussed the idea of not having returned for this season and instead having gone straight to the NBA at the end of the 2013-2014 season — the same season in which Florida graduated four starting seniors.
He said he decided to return for this season because he realized he needed to develop more strength.
But before Walker considers leaving Florida for an opportunity in the NBA, he has an opportunity to be the difference-maker for the Gators.
Follow Erica A. Hernandez on Twitter @EricaAlyssa