(Christopher Hanewickel-US PRESSWIRE)
We've known for a long time that Florida was the favorite to land Chris Walker, the uber-athletic five-star forward from Bonifay, Fla. But it sure is nice to finally see "Florida" beside his name on recruiting sites.
Walker decided to randomly end the process a little earlier than expected. He had expressed his desire to end his recruitment early, but I felt that meant in, like, October. But Walker announced his 8 a.m. Sunday announcement time, one of the stranger announcement times I can think of. He announced his college decision at the end of his latest Home Team Hoops mixtape, a cool way of announcing his decision, if you ask me (press conferences are lame).
Anyway, back to the point of this post. What does Walker's commitment mean for Florida?
Well, it solidifies a 2013-14 roster that will match up well against Kentucky or any other elite team in the country. With Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith becoming eligible in 2013-14 and Kasey Hill committed, this four-member pseudo recruiting class gives Billy Donovan a deep, versatile, highly-skilled team that can beat anyone in the country.
So Florida's starting lineup in 2013-14 will probably feature five new starters: PG Kasey Hill, either Michael Frazier or Dillon Graham at SG, SF Dorian Finney-Smith, PF Chris Walker and C Damontre Harris. Yeah, that's a nice starting five.
Walker gives the Gators an extremely athletic forward. He can use his speed and athleticism to lock down the opponent's small forward, or he can go into shot-blocking mode and use his height and length to shut down a power forward. On the offensive end, his mid-range game could use some work, but he can shoot from three at a decent percentage; he is very acrobatic around the rim; he's basically a walking highlight reel.
Walker tweeted that he and Hill would be Gainesville's version of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I thought that was a solid comparison. Not saying that Hill and Walker are that good (yet); Paul is arguably the greatest pure point guard ever, and Griffin is unbelievably athletic. Hill's game is more similar to Paul's than Walker's is to Griffin's, though. Walker can actually shoot the ball.
The starting shooting guard spot will be up for grabs with the departures of Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario. Frazier and Graham (many believe Graham was one of the biggest steals in the 2012 class, by the way), will battle it out for the starting spot. Finney-Smith, will give the Gators a talented, experienced wingman who actually fits his small forward position. Same with Harris, who's shot-blocking ability and overall defensive prowess landed him a spot on the SEC All-Defensive Team as a sophomore.
Then you throw in the role players: Scottie Wilbekin, Braxton Ogbueze, Casey Prather, DeVon Walker, Will Yeguete and Cody Larson (Patric Young would be a senior in 2013-14, but he's almost a lock to enter the NBA Draft, so I'm not including him; if he stays, Young would start and Harris would back him up). That's as deep a team as you're going to find in college basketball.
It's great to see BBN on Twitter tossing around the "We didn't want him!" garbage. Don't let the fact that Kentucky hadn't offered Walker a scholarship make you believe John Calipari didn't want him. UK recently turned up the heat on Kasey Hill, knowing that he was the ticket to landing Walker.
But Walker is a bigger get for Florida than a loss for Kentucky. No doubt, Calipari is the best recruiter in college basketball, and he has plenty of other five-star options. Here's a sobering thought: Calipari has yet to sign his greatest class at Kentucky. Another sobering thought: His greatest class may be coming this cycle. Kentucky is in a great position with Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, James Young, the Harrison twins and 2014 man-child Andrew Wiggins, who will likely reclassify to the 2013 class.
Walker definitely wanted that Kentucky offer. What basketball prospect wouldn't? The offer never came, and now there's that narrative, the Chris-Walker-has-a-chip-on-his-shoulder story that will likely be written each time Florida plays Kentucky. This rivalry, which has been pretty big since Calipari took the job at UK, will continue to grow, and it might not ever be a better year for the rivalry than 2013-14.
Regardless of what Kentucky does, Florida has itself positioned for a title run in 2013-14. That's not to say the Gators couldn't make a run this season, too, but the team will be much more talented and deep in two seasons.
Donovan isn't done recruiting in the 2013 class, though. Florida's looking to add one or two more prospects: a swingman who can shoot and another power forward. Donovan received a lot of criticism (deservedly so) for his inability to land a big in the 2012 class. Then he went and signed two elite transfers and received a commitment from a five-star power forward (read this next part in the voice of Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber) AND TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF.
But seriously though, Donovan's always been a great recruiter, especially doing what he's doing at a football school. This may be his best recruiting job to date, and he deserves a lot of credit.