GAINESVILLE -- It’s getting a bit full.
First things first, Florida jumped to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, its highest ranking since last February.
UF (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) leapfrogged unbeaten Wichita State and is no longer flying under the radar riding its 11-game winning streak.
Last season, No. 2 Florida was throttled on the road at Arkansas, and coach Billy Donovan acknowledged uncertainty with how this year’s team would respond to its newfound hype.
The Gators travel to Starkville to play Mississippi State on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“You always want to go into every game on edge and understanding that in any competitive situation, anything can happen. Hopefully, our guys will respond to that,” Donovan said. “It really doesn’t make a difference about anything that’s happened in the past."
A week after being held scoreless at Auburn, sophomore swingman Michael Frazier II was named the SEC’s player of the week following a pair of shining performances in wins over Alabama and Tennessee.
UF’s guard -- one of the premier shooters in the country -- scored 35 points while connecting on eight treys (8-for-19) in the two games.
Frazier also chipped in five assists and six rebounds and called the honor “great,” adding, “Just shows how hard work pays off.”
For the season, the sophomore is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting 46 percent from behind the arc.
#FREESKYWALKER HAPPENING SOON?
Just last week, Donovan said he was done talking about freshman forward Chris Walker, who remains ineligible awaiting NCAA clearance.
Not so fast.
With a report suggesting the NCAA could clear Walker sometime this week, Donovan addressed the McDonald’s All-American’s status and again tempered expectations.
Donovan said Walker would definitely play if/when eligible, later espousing his lengthy concern for fans’ prospects for the 6-foot-10 forward whenever Walker does see the court.
“My biggest fear for Chris is you have a highly exposed player and sometimes when a guy isn’t playing the ‘legend of Chris Walker’ grows greater than who he really is,” Donovan explained. “You know, it was the same thing with [Dorian Finney-Smith] last year. He’s sitting out and everyone is talking about this guy like he’s Magic Johnson. And Chris Walker now is, ‘Oh my, this guy is going to end up being Kevin Garnett,’ and he’s not that. And I think whenever he gets able to play if that’s their expectation of Chris Walker they’re going to be very, very disappointed because he’s not that. And my biggest fear for him is there is a level of anticipation and excitement of whenever he gets cleared to play, but I hope there is at least a level of understanding in terms of how much he’s missed in terms of coming in to where he’s coming in, and if anybody is expecting him to be savior it would really be unfair. He’s got a lot of growing to do. He’s got a lot of physical growing, mental growing, he’s got to understand the college game a lot more. There’s so much that’s in front of him to get better at and I just hope people will not look at it and say, ‘wow. I was expecting something different.’”
According to Donovan, Walker has maintained a positive attitude during the whole ordeal and has gained 10 pounds, improving his strength and conditioning over the past six weeks.
HARRIS MAKING PROGRESS
Suspended center Damontre Harris is slowly working his way back into Donovan’s good graces, but Florida’s coach confirmed the former South Carolina transfer has no chance to play this season.
“I think it would completely devalue what our team values are here in terms of what we’re trying to do each and every day,” Donovan said. “He had every opportunity back in November to do those things and he elected not to. You know I said, ‘we’re parting ways, he’s going to move on.’ Then obviously he reached out. But you have too many guys like Patric Young and [Will] Yeguete and [Casey] Prather and those guys that have been committed for years and really working to do the right things. For him to all of sudden just get injected back in there because he may help our team, I mean I think we’ve done fine without him. He’ll have to work to get better and improve but we’re not going to play him this year.”
Harris was suspended indefinitely to start the 2013-14 season and was eventually kicked off the team in late December. But over the holidays, the redshirt junior had a change of heart and pleaded with Donovan for an opportunity to rejoin the team.
Although Harris was granted his request, it came with major restrictions and expectations including never playing a game this season or sitting courtside on the bench.
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