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Freshmen Chris Walker announced via Twitter Wednesday that he is returning next season.

Wednesday April 9, 2014Chris Walker Returning to Gators Next Season

Freshmen Chris Walker announced via Twitter Wednesday that he is returning next season.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one-half-and-done career for Florida center Chris Walker. 

Walker, the 6-foot-10 freshman and McDonald’s All-American who became eligible to play in February, informed his coaches and teammates Wednesday he will return to play for the Gators in the 2014-15 season rather than take his chances with the NBA draft.

The news was welcome for a UF team that must replace its entire starting front court, including center Patric Young and power forward Will Yeguete in the low post. That's where Walker will come in. Prominently.

“This season made me hungrier,” Walker told GatorZone.com via text message. “I learned from those guys that hard work and sacrifice will get you as far as you let it.”

Walker only averaged 1.9 points, 1.3 rebounds and blocked eight shots during his 18 games, but his length, athleticism and skills as a shot-blocker flashed enough for everyone to realize his potential with a full offseason of workouts and strength training, an entire preseason to digest the system and be part of team chemistry -- and probably 25-30 minutes per game next season to score, rebound, block shots and impact action on both ends of the floor.

Nearly every mock draft lists Walker as Florida’s best NBA prospect, despite the fact he played less than five minutes per game during the '13-14 season. Depending on the source, his status fluctuates anywhere from a late first-round to an early second.

A full year of college, though, could very well put Walker back in the NBA lottery conversations in 2015. That happens to be where most draft projections had Walker this time last year, when he was still at Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High and had just won the slam-dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-America Game.

Walker shot 59.3 from the floor as a college rookie, but only took 27 field-goal attempts. Of his 24 rebounds, 10 were on the offensive glass. His best game came in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round against UCLA when he scored seven points, grabbed three boards and blocked a shot in just six minutes.

“You saw the kind of things he can get into a game,” UF assistant coach Matt McCall said. “Now, project that over an entire game.”

Walker needs to get a feel for defense and staying out of foul trouble. One of the best ways to do that is to actually be in games and think on his feet.

“I want to get both mentally and physically stronger and work on all aspects of my game to make me the best player possible,” Walker told GatorZone.com. “It will give me an opportunity to build my body and get more one-on-one work with my coaches and put me in the position not only to start next season, but be a main factor."

The number of one-and-done players in Donovan's 18 seasons at Florida will remain at two: Donnell Harvey (first-round pick by Dallas in 2000) and Bradley Beal (third overall selection by the Washington Wizards in 2012).

With Walker returning, the Gators have 12 of 13 scholarships committed for 2014-15, a number that still includes 6-10 center Damontre Harris, whose status beyond this semester remains uncertain due to accountability issues.

Next fall, UF will return just one starter (guard Michael Frazier II) from a team that went 36-3, and won both the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament championships by going a combined 21-0 in league play. UF won 30 straight games, including the NCAA South Region title, before falling Saturday night to eventual national champion Connecticut in the Final Four.

 

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