STARKVILLE, Miss. -- You’re only one or two players away from being called on. That’s what coaches tell reserves who sit at the end of the bench waiting their chance.
It’s no different for Florida and a trio of anxious and, yes, probably frustrated freshmen -- forward Devon Walker (pictured above), along with guards Dillon Graham and Braxton Ogbueze -- who have had to settle for spot duty, at best, but more often mop-up action at the end of games.
But they’re only one or two players away.
Or one or two plays.
That was the case for Walker, a.k.a “DeVo.” With backup forward Casey Prather out with an ankle injury, Walker was summoned to close out the final minutes of the first half Wednesday night at Georgia with both center Patric Young and forward Erik Murphy in foul trouble.
That meant the 6-foot-6, 191-pound Walker, a perimeter swingman, was needed in the post to body, bump and bang with the likes of 6-9, 225-pound Donte Williams and 6-8, 230-pound Nemanja Djurisic.
“It was a challenge,” Walker said with a smile. “I’m skinny.”
But he goes against Young, Murphy and Will Yeguete every day during UF’s oftentimes grueling practices. Skinny but ready.
What pleased his coaches was that Walker was where he was supposed to be in his few minutes of action. He didn’t touch the ball on either end, other than a tipped deflection, but that one led to a steal that helped keep things tight -- Georgia led by three at halftime -- for the Gators to break things open early in the second half.
“I think I did decent,” Walker said.
So did his teammates.
“DeVo is getting used to playing the 4,” Yeguette said. “He’s doing a really good job now helping there.”
Obviously, five minutes in what turned out to be a 17-point win is not what Walker, or any of his classmates, aspire to. They want to play.
At the same, the eighth-ranked Gators are 15-2 heading into today’s Southeastern Conference game at Mississippi State and off to just the fourth 5-0 league start in school history. It’s not like Walker can argue with those results. Or wants to.
“You have to stand by your teammates. You have to get out of yourself, especially when you’re in that tough situation, sitting on the bench,” said Walker, who is averaging less than a point and rebound in 64 minutes this season. “You have to try to be a part of the game anyway. That way, when you do get called, you are already in the flow of things. That’s how I go about it.”
Graham was called for a few minutes at LSU, when Prather went down with his injury and Mike Rosario did not dress out due to an ankle. If Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin needed to take a seat, Ogbueze could be needed.
One or two players. One or two plays.
It could happen again Saturday night.
“I’m going to be a great player here,” Walker said. “I would be lying if I said I don’t get caught up in [not playing], but this is just one of those things you have to battle. That comes from maturity. I see the big picture now.”