"Nothing haunts us like promise unfulfilled." Simple, poignant and powerful words spoken by Michael Wilbon in the ESPN 30for30 "Benji."
The words hit hard because they’re true, and they ring loudest when I think about Chris Walker, the player with easily the most promise on Florida’s basketball team and one of the most hyped players to come through Gainesville during Billy Donovan’s tenure.
I find myself enamored with Walker, and I can’t get over it.
Perhaps it’s the normal simple fascination with potential — I mean, his athleticism is otherworldly.
I watched him get beat running back down the court on defense Thursday against Auburn, only to recover to have a devastating block from behind.
Those are the flashes. That’s what keeps you coming back for more.
That’s why I refuse to stop clinging to this dogged belief that Chris Walker will do what he hasn’t yet, and that is not anywhere near the immense expectations so many had for him.
Yes, the hype was lofty, but that’s the world we live in — of YouTube highlights with him swatting shots into next-never and rocking rims in AAU competition.
But it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Walker has skills, but they just are not developing at the rate that similar lanky phenoms have in the past.
He has the natural length to rebound at a high rate and the quick leaping ability to jump out of the gym at a moment’s notice. He showed an ounce of a face-up jumper in the loss against Georgia — develop that consistently and Walker could really max out his potential.
Coach Billy Donovan knew this was going to happen, knew that the clips of him protecting the rim against competition a foot shorter than him at Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High wouldn’t immediately transfer into a double-double machine in the Southeastern Conference.
It’s not add-water-instant-first-rounder, no matter what Kentucky coach John Calipari may lead you to believe.
Mix in a suspension that sits Walker out for 40 percent of the season and as Donovan tells it, the legend only grew from there because he was out of sight and out of mind.
Now he’s not. He’s on your TV for right around 15 minutes a game as Florida’s starting center — that’s another part of the problem.
Walker said Monday he can play up to 30, but his coach thinks otherwise.
But Donovan sees him struggle to push through "cardiovascular pain" and knows he needs to push harder.
To Walker’s credit, I think he gets it. This doesn’t strike me as a situation where Walker’s not listening to coaching or he’s too dumb to understand coaching from a basketball IQ standpoint or worse, just a lost cause.
I think that, simply put, it’s taking longer than any of us thought would be the case to develop him into a good player.
He even said Monday that he has played "horrible" in Florida’s most recent games. He says things turned for him mentally over Thanksgiving during the Bahamas trip, when he started telling himself he needs to play harder.
For him, I think the want-to is there to get better, but want-to isn’t good enough to get the job done at this level.
There must be practical applications of your will to win via implementation of what coaches are teaching you, how they communicate what they need from you.
That’s where Walker struggles, getting what he’s hearing from Donovan, John Pelphrey, Rashon Burno and Matt McCall from his brain to the practice court, then by extension the O’Connell Center floor.
Will he? I don’t know, you don’t either, and I’m not sure even Chris knows.
But he does have what Ben Wilson — the subject of that 30for30 — doesn’t.
He has time to fulfill his promise.
Wilson’s time was stolen from him; Walker has so much in front of him.
What he does with it is up to him.
Follow Richard Johnson on Twitter @RagjUF