Chris Walker's sad tale is unlikely to have a happy ending

Chris Walker's sad tale is unlikely to have a happy ending

The steep decline of Chris Walker reached its nadir Friday afternoon.

It was then that the onetime top 10 recruit announced he's leaving Florida and declaring for the NBA draft despite having virtually no chance of being selected.

In two tumultuous seasons at Florida, Walker delivered occasional flashes of athletic potential but never came close to blossoming into an impact player.

The 6-foot-10 forward didn't become eligible until early February as a freshman and played sparingly off the bench for a Final Four-bound Florida team, averaging 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. He made little impact in the postseason for the senior-laden Gators, scoring only seven points and logging only 18 total minutes in five NCAA tournament games.

The Gators needed Walker to play a bigger role as a sophomore after losing their entire starting frontcourt, but he wasn't up to the task, He frequently looked lost defensively and was constantly a step slow on rotations, which was a major reason he logged only 14.6 minutes per game and averaged a modest 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Such numbers represented growth for an average raw young big man, but expectations for Walker were far higher than that when he arrived in Gainesville. This was a kid who was a McDonald's All-American; who chose the Gators over national powers Kansas and Louisville; who was a projected lottery pick before he played his first college game.

Why was Walker such a disappointment? Florida coach Billy Donovan has blamed a combination of a suspect work ethic and overblown expectations.

The immensely gifted Walker dominated in high school because of his mix of explosiveness, athleticism and size. He never spent time developing a low-post or mid-range game because he never saw a need. He could block shots, run the floor and dunk with ease and too many people around him were telling him that was good enough.

"My biggest challenge and issue with Chris is his consistent work ethic," Donovan told reporters in Gainesville in January. "That's big for him. When you're in high school like he was, sometimes you can dominate a game, block shots and use your athleticism because he's not going against anyone his size. Now at this level, he's going against more guys his size, a lot of guys who are physically stronger. He's having to figure things out.

"He has been really coachable. He's trying to get better. The only thing that is going to continue to hold him back is his work ethic, a consistent work ethic. He's had some days where he is good in that area, and he has had some days where he's been very poor. That's the thing he has to get better at. His work ethic today is better than when he first got here, but it still needs to get better."

Continuing to develop that work ethic under Donovan's tutelage was a potentially good situation for Walker, but the path he is taking now will be much tougher.

He's not listed among DraftExpress.com's top 100 prospects, which means he almost certainly won't be drafted and would be lucky to have the chance to play his way onto an NBA roster in training camp next fall. Instead he'll probably wind up toiling in anonymity in the D-League or overseas, both environments that require incredible self discipline for prospects to develop.

There are few signs Walker has that level of discipline.

Though he handled his lack of playing time at Florida with more unselfishness and class than many in his shoes would have, it takes more than just a good attitude to make the jump from raw D-League big man to an NBA roster. He'll have to motivate himself to get in the gym and address his shortcomings while playing games in far-away outposts in front of crowds that often number in the hundreds, not the thousands.

If Walker can do that and develop some offensive skill and defensive awareness, perhaps he'll someday tap into the physical tools that once made him a top prospect. Otherwise, the sad tale of a once highly touted player is unlikely to have a happy ending.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!