- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Florida prospect Chris Walker is one of the best players in the class of 2013. Like Arizona's Aaron Gordon, though, he hasn't been quite as touted as some of his household-name classmates. In Gordon's case, his summer play at various skills camps and highlight reel (especially) for the title-winning U19 USA men's team this weekend has made him impossible to further overlook.
In Walker's case, things are much simpler: No one knows whether he'll actually be able to play.
The issue is academic status. On Monday, a smattering of second-hand reports claimed Walker had already been deemed "ineligible." Other reports quickly disputed that notion. The typical back-and-forth ensued. Monday afternoon, ESPN.com Insider Jeff Goodman reported Walker was enrolled in classes in the hopes of being able to play right away this fall:
Florida freshman Chris Walker currently enrolled in classes in hopes of qualifying for this season, source told ESPN. No decision yet.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 8, 2013
Walker's status has been uncertain all summer. On June 11, Poe White, Walker's high school coach, told the Gainesville Sun the 6-foot-9 forward was still finishing three core course requirements and working on bringing up his test scores in the hopes of being ready for the start of Florida's second summer session, which began on July 1.
It is no surprise, then, that a dearth of news eight days into July would activate the summer circuit rumor mill. And it's surely never a great sign when a player is still pushing toward qualification at such a late date. But there are a few things to clarify.
For starters, the NCAA's academic office isn't a zero-sum game. A player isn't eligible or ineligible, with no wiggle room in between. Instead, the NCAA has three classifications — qualified, partially qualified, and non-qualified — each of which can remain fluid. Partial qualifiers are essentially academic redshirts; Kansas star Ben McLemore was a partial qualifier before his breakout year in Lawrence last winter.
Likewise, as the typically helpful John Infante reminded everyone Monday afternoon, there is still plenty of time for Walker to get to where he needs to be.
It’s true that Walker is rapidly running out of chances to qualify by August. But even that is not a guarantee at this time. He could still take another summer school or online course to try and boost his GPA before Florida starts school on August 21 (even going a week or so past that date is a possibility).
And if Walker still has not qualified by the start of Florida’s fall semester, he can still try and qualify by January. That actually gives him more options, since in addition to continuing to take postgraduate courses he could also register for one of the three SATs or three ACTs offered during the fall. Assuming that Walker’s issue is just a GPA/test score sliding scale shortfall, this could theoretically go on indefinitely, as long as he does not enroll in a collegiate institution.
In other words: The chances that Walker is completely unable to play at Florida are slim to none. Even if he is on the wrong side of the sliding qualification scale, he can improve his status in the months to come, and there's nothing to say he couldn't still earn partial qualification status and be eligible to play at Florida as a sophomore.
Gators fans will be sweating any and all news out of Indianapolis in the weeks to come, because Walker is that good. It would be a shame if academic struggles held his immense talent back. Right now, the lack of a foregone conclusion is good news.