It’s part of the reason Walker spent time in the gym with head coach Billy Donovan on Monday morning, getting up over 150 shots.
This season hasn’t gone the way Walker or anyone around him expected. Patric Young graduated, and Walker was supposed to step into his starting spot without much of a drop off. The heralded five-star recruit was being given his chance to shine.
And through the first 16 games of the season, it hasn’t happened. Walker is averaging 2.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 1.25 turnovers and 1.5 blocks in four Southeastern Conference games. The LSU game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (TV: ESPN) serves as his next opportunity to improve.
“Me playing horrible the past couple games, I feel like this game is what I need,” Chris Walker said.
To get where he needs to be, Donovan wants to see Walker have a better work ethic and desire to improve. The veteran coach thinks his big man can get to that point, but it hasn’t happened yet and there’s still a long way to go. He simply hasn’t worked hard enough off the floor, and the recent stretch of games has been a wakeup call for the former five-star prospect.
“I think for Chris right now like it’s not about watching film, it’s about working and him getting on the court and working,” Donovan said. “That’s an area where he needs to get better at pushing himself. He has to work better. Then it becomes challenging. I don’t believe as a player you can really get a lot better without having a great work ethic, and he’s got to develop a great work ethic. He can do that. There’s times he works really hard, but again, it’s that sometimes it’s not. ‘I’m a little sore today, little tired today.’
“You’re constantly pushing him, and he’s got to do that. He sometimes struggles with that. If he wants to be the kind of player he talks about being, he’s going to need to continue to work. I believe he can do it. He’s a young player right now that needs to learn how hard he needs to work.”
When Walker was a recruit, Donovan thought this season could be possible. Expectations grew out of a control as Walker’s highlight film included blocked shots against opposing players much smaller than him. He would jump out of the gym to catch alley oops and finish with a thunderous dunk over smaller competition.
There was going to be an adjustment period for Walker once he hit the college level, and it’s showing this season.
“Up there in Bonifay and up there in Holmes County, there’s not a lot of 6-11 guys running around up there,” Donovan said about Walker. “So he can stand there and do things just purely based on athleticism and size and running and he had an unbelievable impact on the game. If I’m coaching a high school team, I putting Chris Walker at the rim and just saying ‘Hey. When someone comes in there, block shots.’ But that’s not realistic in college.”
Walker added, “At Bonifay in high school, I’d just stand in the middle of the paint and people like 5-10, 5-8, just come in and shoot it up and I blocked shots. In college, you’ve got to be in your position and everything. You’ve got to help the helper. You’ve got to actually box out people. It’s different.”
The challenge for Walker in breaking out of his slump is to avoid pressing. There’s always a temptation for talented players to try too hard to end their struggles, but Walker knows that would only complicate the issues.
“I just need to stick with what they want to do, don’t try to force (anything),” Walker said.