GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Billy Donovan said he is delighted to have McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker on campus and in school but he won’t be with the Gators tonight when they face Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound freshman forward has been practicing with the Gators since Saturday but is not eligible to play as he continues to work his way through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Once cleared to play, Walker is expected to give the Gators an inside presence with his shot-blocking, rebounding and ability to finish at the basket.
“He’s got such a long way to go and it’s not his fault,” Donovan said. “Obviously when you miss September, October and November and part of December, you are going to be really, really behind.”
Gators forward Will Yeguete said Walker is fitting in nicely and has impressed his new teammates.
“He’s really athletic,” Yeguete said. “He’s just asking questions, he wants to learn, he’s really excited to be here finally.
“Just him being in practice running up and down and trying to learn plays and how to guard and everything I think is really exciting. I’m happy for him to be here because he’s doing a lot of work.”
Meanwhile, it’s likely South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris won’t ever play for the Gators. Harris sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules, then was suspended to start this season.
Harris, a 6-10 center/forward, made the Southeastern Conference’s all-defensive team as a sophomore in 2011-12 while at South Carolina.
He averaged 2.3 blocks, 5.5 rebounds and 6.8 points in 31 games that season, but Donovan said Harris likely is headed elsewhere to finish his college career.
“I talked to Damontre a little bit last week,” Donovan said. “Nothing has changed at all. Right now he’s not part of our team. I don’t anticipate him coming back to be a part of our team.
“He has shown no signs of wanting to do the things necessary to come back. So I really don’t know what his plans would be or where he’ll go, but right now I don’t ever anticipate him playing here at Florida.”
Tonight’s game at the Garden holds extra-special importance for Donovan, who grew up on Long Island.
“I was a kid in elementary school, high school, I would jump on the Long Island Railroad and go into Penn Station and go buy a $5 ticket in the (Garden) rafters,” Donovan said.
“It’s definitely special. There’s just something special about it to me. And I think for some of our guys, they really don’t understand that part of it.”