At 5-foot-8, Florida point guard Erving Walker has been called a few things by opposing fans and been christened with a nickname or two in his day, but the one that seems to have stuck, the one he’s partial to, came from Gator backcourt mate Kenny Boynton.
Big Shot Erv.
“Yeah, I kinda like that one,” Walker said.
Suffice it to say Walker has earned it. The little man with the huge heart has made a career’s worth of big shots this season. Who can forget, for example, his deep three-pointer to send a game at Georgia into overtime, where the Gators won, or his length-of-the-court dash for a winning layup against Tennessee?
More recently, on a national stage, Walker took over in Florida’s third-round NCAA Tournament victory over UCLA, scoring 10 of the Gators’ last 12 points, including a three-pointer with 1:14 to play and a layup over UCLA center Joshua Smith, a mountain-sized freshman who looks like he ate Renardo Sidney for breakfast.
Stunned at what he’d just witnessed, UCLA coach Ben Howland could only salute Walker in the post-game press conference.
“The little guy burned us,” Howland said.
What’s the secret to Walker’s success? It’s twofold, actually. Walker’s game starts with an industrial strength portion of intestinal fortitude.
“I’m not afraid to fail,” Walker said. “You’re not going to make every shot you take [in pressure situations]. But if coach calls my name, I have the confidence to step up and try to make a play, to get the best shot I can for my team.”
Walker has always been willing to step into the breach and make winning plays. It started when he was seven, playing for his father on a youth team in his native Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Mostly, kids that age don’t want to shoot,” Walker said. “But not me. I was never afraid to shoot it. So you could say [the willingness to take big shots] has been with me since I was young.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan and his assistants were well aware of Walker’s rep when they were recruiting him. That he was barely taller than a fire hydrant mattered little. They were looking for a playmaker. Actually, a big play maker.
“Erving brought that reputation with him from the Catholic League in New York City [playing for Christ the King],” Florida associate head coach Larry Shyatt said. “His high school coach saw that in him, and always told us that Erving was a kid who wanted the ball and wasn’t afraid to take the big shot.
“We’ve seen that evolve this season because we’ve been involved in so many close games, and as a point guard, Erving has the ball in his hands a lot. You seldom see a big man getting the ball down the stretch and making a play to win a game, because it’s so hard to get it to him. Erving starts with the ball a lot of the time, and with the ball, he’s been in position, when we’ve needed to have a big basket, to get the job done.”
Walker gets the job done a lot of the time with his popcorn stand range, which brings us to the second reason for his success.
“He can shoot it from almost 30 feet,” UCLA guard Tyler Honeycutt said. “It’s hard to get out on him.”
There’s no “almost” about it. Walker has canned a few 30-footers in his Florida career. Ever since the day he realized he’d been slighted by the gene pool and wasn’t going to be a prototypical, 6-5, 210-pound shooting guard, Walker has working on developing other-zip code range.
“I learned a long time ago it was easier to shoot from the outside,” Walker said. “Instead of going in close and being contested, why not just go farther out?”
How could a player so small in stature be able to routinely hoist—and make—so many long three-pointers?
“He’s very strong,” Shyatt said. “Like a mini-Sherman tank.”
Tonight, Walker will face off against another big-shot meister, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Not that Walker will have to guard Fredette—that task will go to Boynton. But if any player on Florida’s roster can match Fredette shot for shot, it’s Walker. He’s ready for action in what will be, so far at least, the biggest game of his life.
“It’s every player’s dream to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Walker said. “This is what college basketball is all about.”
And if Walker gets a chance to put up another game winner?
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to do whatever your teams needs you to do.”