Florida suspends forward Chris Walker for 1st 2 games of the season for violating team rules

GAINESVILLE, Fla. _ Florida has suspended highly touted forward Chris Walker for the first two games of the season for violating team rules.

Coach Billy Donovan announced the discipline Wednesday at the team’s annual media day, saying Walker also will miss an exhibition game against Barry University on Nov. 6.

Donovan also said freshman Brandone Francis won’t play this season because of NCAA academic issues. A 6-foot-5 guard from the Dominican Republic, Francis has been admitted to school but “has to prove himself academically,” Donovan said.

Walker, a 6-foot-10 sophomore from Bonifay, will sit out the regular-season opener against William & Mary on Nov. 15 and against Miami two days later. He is scheduled to return against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 21.

“I think the biggest thing, his biggest challenge this year, is going to be his ability to manage expectations,” Donovan said. “You hear all these expectations, and people look at the fact that he’s gotten physically strong and everything else. He has such a long way to go in terms of being reliable, accountable and disciplined. Those would be the three things I would say I don’t have a real good grasp on right now, but we’re going to find out.”

Walker averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in 18 games last season. He sat out the first 12 games because the NCAA determined he received improper benefits. He was ordered to donate $270 to a charity of his choice and serve 80 hours of community service.

Walker made his collegiate debut Feb. 4, spending the rest of year playing behind Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith. He announced in April that he was giving the Gators “one more year” before turning pro. He’s widely considered an NBA lottery pick because of his size, raw skill and athleticism.

“I’ve never seen a guy have more hype coming into the middle of our year,” Donovan said. “I kept telling you guys, ‘Listen, he’s not going to be ready to do all that. I think I was accurate. I don’t know what kind of impact he’s going to make. … Maybe he’s got his own personal expectation of where he thinks he should be. If he’s not at that level, how is he going to handle that? One of the most difficult things to deal with as a coach is when you have players with individual expectations that don’t get met.

“He’s got to have a realistic expectation. He’s got a long way to go.”

So does Francis.

“There are things he has to do academically while he’s here to get himself eligible to play,” Donovan said. “If he progresses in his first semester like we hope he will, he’ll be allowed to come back to practice for the second semester.”

Guard Eli Carter, who transferred from Rutgers in 2013, is close to fully recovering from a broken right leg. He also is dealing with a bone bruise in an ankle that could keep him out the first few days of practice.

“Eli Carter is moving in a much, much more positive direction than he did a year ago,” Donovan said. “He should be much, much better in terms of his availability this year.”

Donovan also said 6-8 forward Alex Murphy, who transferred from Duke last fall, could miss the first eight or 10 games because of NCAA transfer rules.

And 6-11 centre John Egbunu, who transferred from USF after last season, will apply to play immediately this season.

“There are some things that are going on there,” Donovan said. “I’m probably not allowed to get in any great detail about those things. John is going to be a very, very good player. … I think he’ll help us in practice if he’s not able to play. But we are appealing. Where that leads, I don’t know yet.

“I would say that right now, if I had to guess, it’s probably leaning more toward him having to sit out this year. We’re going to exhaust all of our avenues and see where it leads us. I think he’s going to be a very good player.”

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