Larson departure hurts depth

Cody Larson was tenth on the team with 5.7 minutes per game last season, but his decision to leave the Florida basketball program still creates depth issues in the frontcourt. The Gators have three experienced bodies — Erik Murphy, Will Yeguete and Patric Young — to play in the paint. Larson would have been the fourth off the bench, but head coach Billy Donovan won't rule out Larson returning.

Larson was going to play without a scholarship this season because of his inability to handle responsibilities off the court. The move was made in effort to encourage Larson to get his priorities in order and take his academics and life away from basketball more seriously.

It was working well for the redshirt sophomore. His maturity off the court was starting to improve, as well as his play on the court.

"Cody, without question, in September and first week of practice, was playing his best basketball that I've seen him play," Billy Donovan said about Cody Larson. "He was aware of that as well. Because of his departure and taking away a physical body, Murphy and Patric are the only two frontcourt guys that will play and have legitimate size, girth and big-bodied guys.

"Will is an undersized power forward, even though he has been effective. He has been a great rebounder and loose ball guy."

The reason for Larson's departure was simply about his love for the game of basketball. He was a late addition to the Florida 2010 recruiting class and didn't make much of an impact during his first two years on campus.

With issues off the court and questions about his desire to improve, Larson changed those expectations in preseason practice this year. However, with the first exhibition game of the year less than a week away, Larson went to Donovan last Thursday and shared his decision to leave the team.

"The realization hit him that at this point in time, I don't think he loves the game," Donovan said. "He just doesn't love it and doesn't enjoy coming in and working and doing those things. It was a feeling where he felt like he was doing this coaching staff a disservice and doing the team a disservice."

Donovan was upset to hear the news from Larson. It hurts the team because of the loss of another experienced body in conference play, but Donovan was proud of the step out for Larson. For someone that has grown up playing basketball, the decision wasn't an easy one. However, the head coach was proud of him for making the decision that was best for his future.

"I'm 6-9 and 240 pounds. Everyone tells me I should be good at basketball and I can be good at basketball," Donovan recalled of what Larson has been told in the past. "He's just always followed suit of what people asked him to do and said he can do. I think he's come to the realization of, ‘what do I really want?' He has been much more dedicated academically this semester than he has ever been. He has been more responsible. It was just an assessment of his life.

"It was hard when you're a player coming from a small state and these Mike Miller comparisons coming out of South Dakota. This is the first time, and I give him a lot of credit, that he has stepped up and said, ‘this is how I feel.' I don't think it's a bad or wrong decision. It's his decision on what he thinks is best for him."

The future is still up in the air for Larson. He's still in Gainesville and attending classes. Donovan said that he could end up staying at Florida and trying to graduate as a student. He could also leave and try to continue his career at another school. Donovan also didn't rule out the possibility of Larson rejoining the team.

"I'm really proud of the strides he's made in his personal life and taking accountability and responsibility," Donovan said. "It was the first time in two years that I actually feel like he has critically thought about his life and future away from basketball."

If Larson came to Donovan in the next few weeks and said that he made a mistake in leaving the team, the Florida head coach did add that he would welcome him back. He would want to talk with Larson to make sure his motives were correct, and Larson would have to address his teammates before the move was made, but it was something that Donovan is open to if Larson changes his mind.

"I would take him back if he really wanted to do it. Listen, if there's anybody that knows about changing their mind, it's me," Donovan joked about his previous decision to be the coach of the Orlando Magic before changing his mind. "If he legitimately felt in a week or two that he missed (basketball) and made a huge mistake, he could come back to our team.

"I understand as a young player, there's a lot swarming around in his head. I'm not trying to push him to come back and have not even tried to talk him into staying or give him a motivation speech."

Larson has been through three years of preseason practice and two full seasons on the team. He knows the system and the setup of the basketball team, so Donovan said he wouldn't be too far behind if he did elect to return. The conditioning could be a problem, but it's nothing that wouldn't get ironed out in time.

Donovan was also clear that he isn't going to approach Larson about it. The decision was made after Larson thought critically about the move, and that's not a process that Donovan wants to get in the way of unfolding. The personal growth Larson has shown is something that Donovan wants to continue seeing, regardless of if he ever suits up for the Gators again.

"If I tried to persuade or influence him staying, at some point those feelings (of not loving the game) are going to resurface again," Donovan said. "He's going to have to deal with them. The biggest thing I was proud of was him dealing with what he was feeling and going through. I also understand this is the first time he has made a decision in his life for basketball to be taken out of his life.

"But you know what, he could make a realization two weeks from now that he misses this to death and wants to be a part of the team."

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