Walker Is Cleared to Play for UF; NCAA Gives Approval for 6-10 Freshman to See First Action Tuesday

Article excerpt

Byline: Adam Pincus

GAINESVILLE | The NCAA cleared Florida freshman forward Chris Walker to play on Tuesday night against Missouri after a lengthy investigation regarding illegal benefits.

Walker arrived at Florida as a highly touted recruit who played AAU basketball with freshman point guard Kasey Hill. The 6-foot-10 Walker initially didn't qualify academically at Florida and spent the fall taking online classes to gain eligibility. Then he was forced to sit out 12 games as a result of the investigation.

He received preferential treatment from five people, including a total of $270 from two agents, according to the NCAA. Walker accepted free cell phones and service, plane tickets, lodging, meals and apparel as an amateur.

The NCAA said individuals close to Walker also received airfare and lodging for nine trips, eight of which were for AAU competitions. As a result, Walker must pay back the $270 to a charity of his choice along with completing 80 hours of community service.

"The NCAA membership has expressed continued concern about how third-party influence, improper agent involvement and the role of non-scholastic basketball impact student-athletes and prospects," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs. "Out of concern for student-athletes' well-being, our members have created rules that limit the involvement of these individuals. The 12 games Mr. Walker was required to sit out reflect the significance of these violations."

Walker, who played at Bonifay High School and won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American game last year, has become an enigma in Gainesville where fans chant his name during games and plaster his face on signs. …