GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kim Walker keeps a photo of her sobbing son in his room. It's from Erving Walker's freshman year, an SEC Tournament game against Auburn.
Walker's 3-point attempt with five seconds remaining would have tied the game, but the shot was blocked. The Gators lost, and a young Walker cried.
Instead of viewing it as a low point, Kim Walker sees something different in the photo.
"It exhibits a passion that was captured," Kim Walker said as she returned to the family's home in Brooklyn after the Gators advanced to the Sweet 16.
"To others, it may appear to be a failure, it's not. It's just a moment in time and an emotion that exists."
That her son, now a junior, is willing to take those types of shots likely comes from the discussions they have about life and disappointment. You take the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, Kim tells Erving.
These days, there's little bitter about what the Gators (28-7) are doing. In the first Sweet 16 appearance for any of these players, the second-seeded Gators face third-seeded BYU (32-4) on Thursday in New Orleans.
And while much of the attention will go to BYU's Jimmer Fredette, who leads the nation in scoring, some probably deserves to be paid to the point guard of the other team.
It was Walker, after all, whose late-game scoring surge led Florida to a win over UCLA in the third round in Tampa on Saturday.
His 10 points in the final four minutes included two backbreaking shots — one as he bounced off 6-foot-10 center Joshua Smith and fell to the ground, and another on a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down.
Walker and freshman Scottie Wilbekin trapped UCLA's Lazeric Jones and forced him into a turnover at halfcourt late. The competitiveness was obvious, and after the game teammate Chandler Parsons called Walker "fearless."
Listed at 5-8, he has had to be. Kim Walker doesn't like to use her son's diminutive size as an excuse, but it's shaped Walker into the ball player he is.
Coach Billy Donovan, himself once a short point guard, says Walker knows he is measured by his team's success. He hates losing more than he likes winning, which is why he was capable of that burst at the end of the UCLA game.
Donovan would like to see more of that drive, but also says Walker must recognize what's best to help the Gators win. Sometimes passing is better than shooting,
Certainly, he has improved over the course of the season. Turnover-prone early, averaging 4 per game in November, Walker has made better decisions with the ball. Drives to the lane that would have been blocked have now become passes.
His turnovers are down — he averaged two per game in February — and assists are up. He averages 3.0 but had six against UC Santa Barbara in the second round.
Walker leads Florida with 14.7 points per game, but has averaged 19.5 in the Gators' first two tournament games.
The Bruins blocked a shot in the first half as Walker drove to the basket only to have 6-10 Anthony Stover emphatically swat it away. In the second half, he drove the lane again and got a 3-point play. The difference? He learned, Donovan said, and drove against a guard.
"I think as the game went on he got better seeing some of those situations for himself where he made some better decisions," Donovan said, "and then he's one of those guys where if he can get a crack or a pretty good look, he can make some things happen. He's got a way sometimes of willing the ball in the basket, so to speak."