Florida's Hill, Walker fail to make sophomore strides
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Kasey Hill and Chris Walker arrived at Florida as McDonald's All-Americans, can't-miss prospects, the next big-time players for coach Billy Donovan.
Saying they have fallen short of expectations would be an understatement.
Hill, a 6-foot-1 guard from Umatilla, and Walker, a 6-10 center from Bonifay, have been two of the top contributors to Florida's struggles this season.
Hill has been wildly inconsistent, looking like one of the Southeastern Conference's top point guards for a game or two and then playing like someone who has no idea what to do with the ball. The sophomore is Donovan's worst 3-point shooter at that position in 19 years.
Walker has been considerably worse, averaging 2.9 points and 4.0 rebounds over the last eight games. He has stamina issues, provides little, if any, low-post presence and is shooting 37 percent from the free-throw line.
Both are in the starting lineup for the Gators (10-7, 3-1 SEC), who host LSU (13-4, 2-2) on Tuesday night.
''As much as I want the process to be fast forward, sometimes with these players they have to go through certain things before they actually can really grow, develop and become the player that maybe we envision, they envision themselves,'' Donovan said Monday.
Hill and Walker were expected to take huge strides after showing glimpses of potential last season, and stepped into starting roles this year.
Hill was dynamic off the bench in Florida's first four NCAA tournament games, totaling 21 points, 15 assists, four steals and just four turnovers while backing up Scottie Wilbekin.
He's been less impressive in his second season. Although his speed makes his difficult to defend in the open court, he tends to drive too deep into the lane without a plan and has had trouble finishing at the rim. Since he's not even a semi-dangerous shooter, teams dare him to beat them from long range.
Hill is 8-for-44 (18 percent) from 3-point range. Donovan's other starting point guards over the previous 18 years - Eddie Shannon, Teddy Dupay, Brett Nelson, Justin Hamilton, Anthony Roberson, Taurean Green, Nick Calathes, Erving Walker and Wilbekin - averaged 61.5 treys a season.
''We've always had guys back there that really stretched the defense, but it's a great opportunity for the both of us to grow because there's things that I can do to help him in those situations and there's things that he can do to help himself,'' Donovan said. ''I don't think he'll be a prolific 3-point shooter, but he can get better at it, he can improve.''
Meanwhile, Donovan would like to Walker's work ethic improve.
The sophomore missed most of last season because of academics and NCAA suspension. He failed to qualify, spent the fall taking online classes to gain eligibility and joined the team in mid-December, but was way behind.
Then, he had to sit out 12 games, or 40 percent of the season, because the NCAA determined he received preferential treatment from five people, including two agents.
Even though he's been on campus for 13 months, Walker has yet to catch up.
''It's different,'' Walker said. ''The speed, you're actually playing against tall people. I'm just staying with the process. It'll come, everything will fall into place. I just know I need to improve, really. I just need to come in every day and be focused, work hard.''
Walker has looked lost at times on both ends of the floor, and he has nearly as many turnovers (16) as blocked shots (19).
''I feel bad for Chris because it's a hard existence sometimes when you have everyone expecting you to be this and you're not and you can sometimes personally feel like you know, `I'm letting people down; I'm a failure,''' Donovan said. ''And it's not his fault. And he's got to be able to manage that.''