Walker will spice up the Gators

No. 3 Florida received a boost on Wednesday when news broke that freshman forward Chris Walker would join the team on Tuesday when the Gators host Missouri. With only 10 regular season games remaining on the schedule for Walker to play in, the Gators have already settled into their rotation of big men, but Florida coach Billy Donovan has a new piece to his puzzle.

The high school highlight film of Chris Walker is enough to pique the interest of any Florida fan. His blend of a 6-10, 205-pound frame and a 7-1.5 wingspan gives Florida a shot blocking presence that hasn't been on the roster since Joakim Noah left for the NBA.

And that isn't meant to discredit what Patric Young has meant to the Florida defense during his four years on campus. While coming off the bench as a freshman, Young showed what he was capable of in a backup role to Vernon Macklin. Young took over the starting role as a sophomore to begin the 2011-12 season and has served as the defensive anchor since.

Young's impact isn't shown in the statistics. He's always in position and hedges well in a pick-and-roll situation.

Walker brings defense that can show up in the box scores. His length, wingspan and leaping ability translates into shot blocking, an area that hasn't been Young's strong suit.

The freshman can also create some interesting lineups for the Gators. When everyone has been healthy and available this year, Billy Donovan has started Will Yeguete at power forward and Young at center. Dorian Finney-Smith has served as the first and only true big man off the bench. He can only serve as the power forward with either Yeguete or Young playing center.

The 6-10 Walker -- who looks noticeably taller than Young in warm ups -- could even take reps at center and allow Yeguete to stay at power forward, a spot he's a much better fit for. It could also mean that Finney-Smith gets reps as the backup small forward, a position he's athletic enough to fill if Casey Prather gets in foul trouble.

When Damontre Harris was expected to be playing before the season, the plan was to play the 6-10 Harris on the court at the same time as Young. In that lineup, Young said he was looking forward to playing more of the power forward position that would likely be his spot if he can create a role on an NBA roster. If Walker can earn the trust of the coaches, it could allow Young to play power forward.

The biggest difference Walker brings to the Florida roster might be the most simple -- he's another body. Before Walker, the Gators have only been able to depend on Finney-Smith, Yeguete and Young as true big men for minutes. If one of them gets in foul trouble, depth can become an issue. Walk-on Jacob Kurtz has been providing minutes off the bench in those situations, but Walker's clearance means Kurtz likely won't be on the floor much anymore.

Walker's clearance will give the Gators their full roster of expected players for the first time on February 4. It's hard to imagine Walker playing 20+ minutes per game while coming into a veteran-heavy team this late in the season, but there are enough minutes available for him to carve out a role for 10-15 minutes per game. His presence also allows the Gators to rest Finney-Smith, Yeguete and Young as the team heads into the final stretch this season.

The extra rest is important for the two seniors. Yeguete and Young have both dealt with knee issues this season. Yeguete underwent microfracture surgery during the offseason and slowly is getting the explosiveness back in the knee. Donovan gave him a day off in practice weeks ago and will continue to do so as the coaching staff sees fit. For Young, it's just normal knee tendinitis that he expects to deal with throughout the rest of his basketball career.

Walker being eligible allows the Florida coaches to manage the minutes of Yeguete and Young. You'll also see plenty of Walker on the court during blowout games in conference play as the Gators try to get his feet wet as fast as possible.

It's clear to see that Walker's teammates like him a lot, too. Even for a highly touted freshman, he came in and worked hard. Donovan and players have talked about the humbling experiences he dealt with while trying to face Young in practice, but he has made strides in practice during recent weeks.

The freshman is always into games from his familiar spot at the end of the Florida bench. He's cheering, locked into what's happening on the court and often one of the first players off the bench to encourage his teammates during timeouts.

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The real benefit of Walker's clearance for the Florida program could be about the future. The Gators can get him accustomed to the sets Florida runs on both sides of the court this season before he has to make a decision about his future. Walker would be a first round pick in this year's NBA Draft, but with a loaded talent pool this year, Donovan can sell another year to turn Walker into a top-five pick.

It's way too early for Florida to think about next season with a talented team on campus this year that has the ability to win a national championship. Walker's clearance on Wednesday is just another piece that Donovan has to play with.

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