Florida forward Chris Walker "isn't expected to return to Florida next season," according to a report from Scout's Evan Daniels.
Daniels also hinted that the departure might not be for the professional ranks:
Sources also told Scout that Walker is up in the air on whether he will transfer or opt to go the professional route.
Walker was widely considered a potential lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft prior to his freshman season of college basketball, and a top-10 player in the class of 2013. But his Florida career didn't begin until December of that year, after woeful academics forced him to spend a semester getting the grades necessary to qualify. And an NCAA suspension in relation to improper benefits further delayed his Florida debut to early February 2014, spawning a "Free Chris Walker" movement.
That first night with him on the floor, against Missouri, was magical. Walker threw down a pair of alley-oops, and flashed the athleticism that made him such a coveted prospect.
The problem was that he never meaningfully progressed past the flashes.
Walker averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in just under five minutes per game in his freshman season. As a sophomore, after going through offseason conditioning to pack pounds onto his wiry frame and having the full rigor of Billy Donovan's program impressed upon him, he averaged 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game — while playing under 15 minutes per game, fewer even than walk-on Jacob Kurtz.
And while his awareness did improve over the course of the season, as he got accustomed to the rhythms of college basketball and hip to the idea that his athleticism alone could not win the day, Walker's offensive game remains embryonic, with the lion's share of his good shots coming on alley-oops, and many of his other ones looking like flailing prayers. His NBA stock has plummeted — I think he still might get picked late in the 2015 NBA Draft, should he choose that route, if a front office falls in love with his potential, but I couldn't fathom him going in the first round — and his need for development has only grown more glaring and more desperate.
Unfortunately for him, that may not be possible at Florida, even if he truly wanted to stay: Multiple sources have indicated to Alligator Army that Walker may have been academically ineligible for the 2015-16 season, even if he had wanted to stay.
It's also very much possible that Billy Donovan has been preparing for the prospect of Walker departing — or even, in conversations with him, suggesting it — with his recruiting. The National Letters of Intent signed last week by KeVaughn Allen and Keith Stone, two of the four members of Florida's 2015 recruiting class, committed Florida to a projected total of 14 scholarships for the 2015-16 year, one over the NCAA-allowable limit. Walker departing would be the easiest means of the coming attrition that will get Florida down to 13 scholarships — and Florida's pursuit of Fordham transfer Eric Paschall (who committed to Villanova on Thursday) suggests that the Gators have at least been preparing for the possibility of two departures.
Officially, Florida hasn't said anything on Walker's status yet.
"(Donovan) has been on the road the past few days and hasn't had a chance to meet with him this week. We won't have any official update until that happens," a Florida spokesperson told Alligator Army.
Donovan is back in Gainesville today, but only for a short time: He'll head back on the recruiting trail Friday. He is not sure if he will get a chance to meet in person with Walker before he leaves, according to the spokesperson.
And request for comment directly from Walker has not been returned.
If Walker's Florida career ends after two seasons, with five 10-point games and zero double-doubles to his credit, his story will be accompanied with the words "biggest bust ever" more often than not in the years to come. And in terms of a ratio of talent to performance, that label is fair.
But Walker's story is also one of a kid from a dirt-poor community and a tragically unstable family life. For him, a college scholarship may have been the most security he had ever received in his life. (And, of course, for him, the prohibition on high schoolers entering the NBA has almost certainly cost him millions.)
That he has apparently largely squandered that security, and his best chances of swiftly becoming successful, is unfortunate. But the difficult life he had to live before having those chances is something we should not forget.