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Monday October 28, 2013 No redshirt season for Gators swingman DeVon Walker

Updated: 7:43pm, October 28

DeVo GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After practice Thursday, Florida coach Billy Donovan pulled sophomore swingman DeVon Walker off to the side for a chat. A serious one.

Walker, who averaged less than one point in 25 games his freshman year, was told by the UF staff during the offseason that it may be best for him to redshirt in 2013-14; to get bigger and work on his overall skills set.

But something happened the last few weeks. Walker practiced and played very well.

So Donovan went to Walker last week and gave his young player a choice.

“He told me that I had a chance to play this season -- and not just five minutes here or choppy minutes there,” Walker said. “He told me I could actually contribute, that he believed in me, but that he’d understand whatever I wanted to do.”

Bottom line: “It had to be his decision,” Donovan said.

And it had to be made Friday, what with a closed scrimmage Saturday. If Walker played in the scrimmage, the non-medical red-shirt option was off the table, per NCAA rules. That meant Donovan needed a quick decision.

So Walker talked to his family in Winter Haven, Fla., and came back the next day with an answer.

He played.

“I have to trust what he says ... and I do,” Walker said. “If he gives me the go-ahead and says I can play and contribute, I’m going to take him at his word and just go with it.”

So Walker will play this season. His time on the floor against the Yellow Jackets made that official -- Note: NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking about preseason scrimmages -- and his place on the O'Connell Center floor very early in Friday night's preseason game against Florida Southern will be a testament to how far he's come in a short time.

What a contrast from six months ago when Walker announced he was transferring from UF, only to change his mind a few days later. Instead, Walker decided to stick it out and go full bore into the Gators’ offseason conditioning program while committing the equivalent of a second offseason to working out on his own.

The results have moved the 6-foot-6, 190-pounder into prominent conversations regarding UF’s rotation, especially with the team’s run of injuries and pending suspension of senior guard Scottie Wilbekin to start the season. 

“Right now, with our numbers as they are, he’s going to be one of our five perimeter players,” Donovan said. “I’d feel comfortable sliding him in there at the 2 [shooting guard] or the 3 [small forward], no question. I give him a lot of credit. He's done really, really well and I'm proud of him.”

Those remarks speak volumes to the progress Walker has made. Last season, he hit just four of 22 shots (18.2 percent), including only 1-for-7 from the 3-point line.

During the offseason, Walker regularly worked out three times per day, using a blueprint of drills that emphasized shooting, ball-handling and footwork. It was not at all unusual for Walker to seek out managers to be rebound and feed him passes at midnight, part of his routine to get up 280 shots were day.

That 280 figured was scaled back from 500, by the way; 500 was too fatiguing.

Each shooting workout, consisted of spot-shooting. The spots varied, the objectives did not. If Walker failed to hit 71 percent from a mark, he started over.

And, again, he did this nearly every day, three times a day.

According to the manager staff, Walker had the third-best 3-point shooting percentage of any UF player during the offseason, behind only Wilbekin and sophomore Michael Frazier.

Of course, that’s with no one playing defense.

Last Thursday, Walker went 5-for-6 from 3-point range during live scrimmages at practice. Through week’s end, he was shooting 48 percent from the floor (39-for-82) and 46 percent (24-for-52) from the arc in live action since preseason practice began Oct. 11.

“I still feel like I have a long way to go,” Walker said.

Therein lies the beauty of Walker’s development to date. As far as Walker is concerned -- even with the accolades and blessings from his coach -- he doesn't feel as though he's accomplished anything yet.

“Nobody comes here thinking they’re going to redshirt. You come here to play and contribute,” Walker said. “I’ve done OK, I guess. I’ve gotten better, but I know if I keep on working I can do so much more.”

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