Wednesday December 3, 2003Norm Carlson Looks Back.. - Neal Walk
It has been 35 years since Neal Walk completed his basketball career as Florida's first All-American, and the Gator press guide is still overflowing with records of accomplishments which made him one of the most legendary figures in that sport in school history.
Walk, whose three-year career ran from l966-67 through 1968-69, posted better statistical marks in the days when freshmen weren't eligible for the varsity than did almost all of the players since then who had four-year careers.
Walk, a 6-10 center from Miami Beach, still leads UF career charts in 30-point games (15), rebounds (1,181), rebound average (15.3), and scoring average (20.8). He ranks first in single season records in rebounds (494 in l967-68), rebounds per game (19.8 in l967-68), free throws made (201 in l968-69), free throws attempted (278 in l968-69.), and consecutive double-figure scoring games (53 for l967-69).
His 31 rebounds against Alabama in January of l968 is the school record in that category.
Walk was a player who came up with his finest performances against the best teams and their beat players. Against Kentucky he averaged 22.5 rebounds and 24.7 points a game, playing primarily against their great center Dan Issel. Against LSU he scored 39 points in Florida Gym on January 6, l968 and came back against the Tigers on Feb. 10 to tally 38 in Baton Rouge.He averaged 19.8 rebounds and 23.8 points per game in three games against Georgia. He led the nation in rebounding his junior year.
He had 33 points and 29 rebounds against Kentucky in Lexington in l967, and a still school record 18 free throws against LSU in l968.
When Walk's Gator career ended he was the second overall pick in the NBA draft, behind only Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) of UCLA. Walk went on to have a fine eight year professional career with the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Jazz, and New York Knicks. In l972-73 he averaged 20.2 points and 12.4 rebounds a game, and became the first Suns center to ever record a 1,000 rebound season.
Following his NBA career Walk eventually returned to Phoenix in l985, and underwent a series of surgeries to remove a tumor from his spinal cord. He was left confined to a wheelchair, but his courage and determination enabled him to continue a productive life working with the Suns basketball organization as speakers bureau coordinator and director of community relations.
"I'm very satisfied with the life that I've lived, "he said at the time. "I've had tremendous personal success and a great education at the University of Florida."
Walk's number 41 basketball jersey was never worn again at Florida following his graduation in l969 , and it was officially retired by Gator athletic director Jeremy Foley in l997 before Gator home game that season.
"One of my memorable moments was being inducted into the UF athletic Hall of Fame and having my number retired,"said Walk. "I'm proud of the time I spent at the University of Florida. It was a wonderful honor to return to campus and have Jeremy Foley and the Gators do that. I was really impressed with the reception I received. After all, none of the students were around when I went to school there."
Walk is the only Gator basketball player to have his jersey retired. And it is also very likely that his records will still be standing for years to come.
Norm Carlson recently retired from the University Athletic Association after 40 years of service. Carlson serves as historian for Gator athletics and will contribute a regular column to gatorzone.com.