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Donovan defends Walker, talks NCAA, third parties & improving awareness

GAINESVILLE -- No. 3 Florida coach Billy Donovan said he was unaware of the exact findings in Wednesday's NCAA report outlining freshman forward Chris Walker’s 12-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits. 

After missing 40 percent of the season, the 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American will make his collegiate debut Tuesday when the Gators host Missouri (9 p.m., ESPN).

On Friday, Donovan defended Walker’s role in the violations -- the NCAA report stated Walker received free cell phones, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel, among other things -- suggesting the freshman’s naivety of NCAA rules played a key role.

“Chris is a really, really good kid. I think one of the things that is very difficult in these situations is really whether they know the rules or not,” Donovan said.

“I’m sure Chris didn’t know a lot of those things. I think obviously if Chris knew some of those things were a problem, I would believe he wouldn’t have done those things.”  

Florida’s coach also refused to fault Walker’s guardian, Jeneen Campbell, or blanket blame on all third parties.

Donovan highlighted the NCAA’s trouble educating prep prospects, acknowledging the governing agency is likely in over its head and cannot properly police all AAU programs.

“What exactly is the obligation of the institution or the NCAA?,” Donovan asked.

“I know the NCAA tries. They try at All-American events, summer events try to talk to the kids and explain things to them, but it’s very, very difficult in a lot of ways. … The hard part right now, what goes on in the summer time, I think it’s really difficult for the NCAA to police all of that stuff, and I would imagine in some way there are a lot of kids out there right now that don’t know that this is not allowed, that you can’t do this, that this is an extra added benefit.” 


On third parties in college basketball... 

“Everybody is involved with third parties. Everybody is involved. It’s everybody’s issue. It’s just kind of the way of the world. I think some of the rules to come out with third party and some of those things, like I said earlier, it’s impossible to police it all. Some of these guys that are involved with these kids in a lot of sense do a really good job with kids. They really, really help out a lot of kids. That’s probably where the argument comes in where is it allowed, is it not allowed? How long is the relationship? Those are all things you have to uncover in those situations. Jeneen Campbell, she’s a great lady. She’s done the very, very best job she can to help Chris. She doesn’t know the rules. She was kind enough to help out Chris at a time when he was growing up to give him a home and place to grow up and I really, really respect her a lot. Obviously, I think for her she’s probably looking at it like, ‘Why didn’t I know more?’”

On his reaction to the NCAA’s report…

“I haven’t even read the it. I didn’t even, to me it’s, I’ve just kind moved forward with it. I didn’t even go through the report. As I told you guys, there was stuff that I was not informed on because a lot of those meetings were closed meetings between Chris and the NCAA. It had really nothing to do with us and our recruiting of Chris. It had to do with obviously his AAU program, what happened in high school and those kind of things. I’m just happy for him that the NCAA has allowed him to at least play here relatively soon.”

On possibly improving rules awareness for prep athletes…

“I don’t know. I think for certain things there’s people that say, ‘What’s the big deal? Come on, give me a break. It’s not a recruiting situation where an institution is giving something to a kid. This is something that was going on.’ … I don’t know what we could do to try and help more kids, but it’s a tough thing because I do think in a lot of ways there’s a lot of kids out there, but Chris just happened to be one of those guys that got put to the forefront. Again, I think Chris in a certain standpoint probably was maybe a little bit taken back that some of those things were an issue. But there are kids out there that could potentially be in harm’s way, too. You don’t want to see anybody have to go through what Chris went through. I think it’s been a trying time for him. Like I said, I’m just happy that he’s moving forward. We tried to let the NCAA do their job and let the school handle it. We just tried to get prepared and ready to play games. I’m just happy he’s cleared and he’s able to play." 

Florida hosts Texas A&M tomorrow at 4 p.m. on SECTV.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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