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Saturday December 14, 2013 Chris Walker officially joins Gators

Updated: 11:13am, December 14

Chris W GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When the calendar flipped Friday -- and the University of Florida’s fall semester ended -- the Gators’ basketball roster flipped, too.

In a really big way.

Welcome, Chris Walker.

UF coach Billy Donovan and his team officially greeted Walker, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound freshman forward and reigning McDonald’s All-America Game dunk champion, to the program Saturday. Walker, who did not qualify academically for the fall semester, spent the last several months completing his academic entry requirements and last week was admitted and enrolled for the spring semester.

“Chris Walker has been admitted to UF and is eligible to practice, but is not yet eligible to compete,” the school announced in a statement around 10 a.m. “He will begin practicing with our team today.”

His timeline to play in games is uncertain, but Walker was quite the sight -- a very large one, donning No. 23 -- when he entered the gym Saturday after the first of two practices, much to the delight and excitement of his new teammates.

Because UF is between semesters, Donovan and his staff can use the holidays to bring Walker as up to speed as possible on the system, try to work him into basketball condition and prepare him to contribute whenever he is cleared to play.

Walker is believed to be the first scholarship basketball player to join the Gators in midseason; certainly the first in Donovan’s 18 seasons. He also figures to be worth the wait.

After averaging 32 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks a game and leading Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High to state championship last spring, Walker’s length and high-flying athleticism will make for a special addition to the frontcourt depth and a provide even more defensive options for the Gators. Florida has started the season 7-2 -- the lone defeats coming with depleted rosters at Wisconsin (now unbeaten and ranked fourth) and Connecticut (also unbeaten and ranked ninth) -- and only now is rounding into form relative to its health and regular rotation.

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