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Friday, January 28, 2022

Walker announces decision to stay for second season at Florida

<p>Chris Walker attempts a layup during Florida’s 72-49 win against Missouri on March 14 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.</p>

Chris Walker attempts a layup during Florida’s 72-49 win against Missouri on March 14 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Minutes after Florida’s Elite Eight victory over Dayton on March 29, Chris Walker heard Gators fans chant “One more year! One more year!” as he climbed the ladder to cut down the nets.

They got their wish Wednesday.

Walker announced via his Twitter account (@cwalkertime23) that he will return to UF for his sophomore season, opting not to test the NBA Draft waters. The freshman forward was projected as a late first-round pick in June’s draft.

“This year has been a great one, and I’m happy to say I will be joining the gatornation again for one more year!” Walker posted at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

With Walker back, Florida now has 12 of its 13 scholarships committed for 2014-15.

A highly touted prospect coming out of high school, Walker could not enroll at UF until after the fall semester ended on Dec. 14 because of academic ineligibility concerns. Following a 12-game suspension handed down by the NCAA for receiving impermissible benefits from agents, Walker made his debut with the team on Feb. 4.

In 87 minutes on the court in 18 games for Florida this season, the 6-foot-10 forward averaged only 1.9 points on 59.3 percent shooting and 1.3 rebounds per game but showcased his athleticism and shot-blocking in spurts.

Walker logged only 18 minutes during five NCAA Tournament games, but he had his best game of his short season in a 79-68 victory against UCLA in the Sweet 16 on March 27. Against the Bruins, he provided a spark off the bench by recording seven points, three rebounds and a block in six minutes of action.

But at times this year, Walker looked lost and out of position on the defensive end. An offseason under coach Billy Donovan should help the Bonifay native better understand UF’s defense and expand his post moves.

Walker could earn a starting frontcourt role next year.

The Gators lose 68.5 percent of their offensive production in their four seniors from 2013-14, but they return point guard Kasey Hill, shooting guard Michael Frazier II and forward Dorian Finney-Smith — three key players from a Gators rotation that won 36 games and reached its first Final Four since 2007.

The Gators also bring back DeVon Walker, Jacob Kurtz and Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter, who redshirted and sat out most of his 2013-14 campaign to let a fractured fibula in his right leg heal.

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Power forward Alex Murphy and center Damontre Harris should add depth to Florida’s frontcourt, which loses a productive trio in Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete.

Murphy, a Duke transfer, cannot play until mid-December unless he receives a waiver to play earlier, per NCAA transfer rules.

Donovan dismissed Harris, a rim protector and dynamic shot-blocker, from the team last December after the center violated team rules and failed to meet his responsibilities. But a regretful Harris, eager to work his way back onto the team, has returned to Florida and has practiced with the Gators since January.

Florida also adds Devin Robinson, Brandone Francis and Chris Chiozza — three players from Rivals.com’s top 50 for the Class of 2014 — to the mix next year.

Donovan’s son of the same name, walk-on Lexx Edwards and Dillon Graham, who missed last season with bone spurs in his hips, will vie for spots in the rotation.

Barring any injuries, Florida enters 2014-15 with a deep roster — especially now with Chris Walker back in the fold.

Follow Landon Watnick on Twitter @LandonWatnick

Chris Walker attempts a layup during Florida’s 72-49 win against Missouri on March 14 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

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