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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Walker’s recent play has led to team’s success this season

Before the men’s basketball season started, I wasn’t sure how good Florida would be or how the Gators would fare against a much tougher nonconference schedule.

But I did know UF would have a quality guard with a No. 1 jersey who would be entertaining to watch on a nightly basis.

I was right, but it’s No. 11, Erving Walker, carrying Florida rather than No. 1, Kenny Boynton.

Walker, a sophomore, has done a tremendous job stepping up into the point guard role left vacant by Nick Calathes’ departure.

Certainly Florida would be better if Calathes was still around, and my praise of Walker isn’t a slight on the freshman Boynton.

The 18-year-old has struggled in making the transition to the college game. He  averaged 17.4 points in his first five Southeastern Conference games, but he took 15.6 shots per game. He took just less than nine three-pointers per conference game entering Wednesday and connected on 29.5 percent of them.

In a way, this should be seen as good news for Florida fans, because it seems unlikely at this point Boynton will be a one-and-done and jump to the NBA.

“When you’re coming out of high school, the things athletically that you’re doing in high school, sometimes you can’t get away with at this level,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It takes an understanding of how to go about using your athleticism and being effective.”

Walker has been there to help ease the transition, especially as SEC season hit.

In the Gators’ last four nonconference games, the sophomore was mired in a terrible shooting slump. He made just 3 of 21 three-pointers (14.3 percent). Then league play hit, and Walker started lighting it up. Entering Wednesday, the sophomore was connecting on 61.3 percent of three-pointers and was tied for fifth in the SEC in scoring in conference games (18.8 per game).

“Earlier in the year, (Walker) was overpenetrating, taking bad shots, off-balance shots, trying to draw fouls,” Donovan said. “Lately, he’s probably gotten a little bit better at picking his spots.”

Walker said he went through a similar cold spurt at the beginning of his senior season in high school, which gave him something to look back on this time. He, like every other shooter usually does, said he never lost confidence in his shot but admitted doubt can creep in over time.

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And Walker has a pretty good shooter close by if he needs advice. Donovan made a living on his jump shot during his playing days at Providence.

“That’s part of the reason I came to Florida,” Walker said. “I know he’s taller than me, but I knew he would be able to relate to me in a way.”

The toughest part about watching the 5-foot-8 Walker is knowing he would be even better if he were just a few inches taller. He is quick, has NBA shooting range and has shown pretty good court vision in his first full season as a college point guard.

He tries not to think about it.

“I’ve never been an inch or two taller,” Walker said. “I’ve always kinda been the shortest player, but this is just what I’m working with.”

This year that has been plenty enough.

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