Florida beginning its season without top 10 recruit Chris Walker is becoming a real possibility.
As Kevin Brockman of The Gainesville Sun pointed out on Monday, Walker is still not on Florida's roster and school started on Monday, meaning Walker has yet to enroll. (Walker has until Aug. 27 to enroll in classes.)
If Walker gets eligible to play alongside Patric Young, Billy Donovan could have his most talented front line since Joakim Noah and Al Horford were on campus. It could also be the best chance Donovan has had at a title since those two left.
The good news for the Gators is they might be the one team in the country who could most afford to wait on a talent like Walker.
Donovan has plenty of options to fill the spot Walker would likely take next to Young. Florida returns undersized 4-men Will Yeguete and Casey Prather and then add transfer big men Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris.
Even without Walker, Donovan has to be excited about his frontcourt depth and the ability to play different styles based on personnel. Donovan is like a starting pitcher with a myriad of pitches to keep hitters off balance. He can press and play fast with Prather or Yeguete; he can stretch the floor with Finney-Smith; or, he can go big with Harris.
Yeguete would be the most likely starter at the beginning of the season, and that could even be the case if Walker were eligible right away. He is a weapon in Florida's press with his ability to create turnovers.
When Walker joins the roster, Finney-Smith could still have a spot in an Erik Murphy-like role as a stretch-4—he shot 36.6 percent from three as a freshman at Virginia Tech.
Harris, a South Carolina transfer, is the player who would see his role diminish the most once Walker joins the team. He also gives the Gators another big body and shot blocker and allows Donovan to figure out the best way to play two big bodies inside when Harris and Young play together.
Donovan will want to find the right mix fast because Florida has a chance to help or hurt its NCAA seeding early on. Florida's non-conference schedule is brutal with four games against 2013 tourney teams: at Wisconsin (Nov. 12), Middle Tennessee at home (Nov. 21), Kansas at home (Dec. 17) and Memphis in New York (Dec. 17). The Gators also travel to Connecticut on Dec. 2 and play rival Florida State at home on Nov. 29.
If Walker is not enrolled by next Tuesday, he could miss all of of those games. The next target date, as Andy Hutchins of AlligatorArmy.com pointed out, would be Nov. 4 when students can start enrolling for the spring semester, which begins Jan. 6.
Brockway said the most likely scenario is that Walker would enroll in December to make sure he meets NCAA eligibility requirements.
He took three online courses over the summer in an effort to complete his core courses. Those grades then need to be reviewed by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Based on his last ACT score (16), Walker needs to finish with a 2.6 GPA or higher to gain initial NCAA eligibility.
"The one thing that we've tried to explain to him in the work that he’s finishing up in doing is he doesn't need to rush it," Florida coach Billy Donovan said last month. "He just needs to do it correctly and the right way."
Even if Walker were to miss the entire non-conference, it would still make sense for the Gators to play him beginning in January. Why not redshirt so he can save that year of eligibility? It's doubtful he sticks around Gainesville more than a year or two. In fact, if Walker is not eligible this season, he might decide to leave for the NBA before ever playing a college game.
It's also Florida's year to go for it with a senior class which includes Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Yeguete and Prather. The Gators can survive November and December without Walker, but they don't have the talent to win a title without Walker.