Cody Larson

South Dakota State’s Cody Larson thrives despite return home amidst unmet expectations

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Cody Larson (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

This story is about Cody Larson, the South Dakota State Jackrabbit, but in order to understand what it means for Larson to be finishing out his college career in The Mount Rushmore State, you first have to understand what high school basketball means there.

“It’s like a mini-Indiana,” said UNLV assistant coach Ryan Miller, and he would know. He played his high school ball at Mitchell High four years before current Cleveland Cavalier, two-time NBA champion and, for Ryan, little brother Mike Miller did. The state may not be churning out a ton of high major talent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pack a few thousand fans into a gym on a frigid February night.

And while South Dakota may be large in terms of square mileage, it’s quite small when it comes to the basketball community. Everyone knows everyone, which means that when a soon-to-be 6-foot-9 athletic marvel from Sioux Falls, the state’s biggest city, is coming up through the middle and high school ranks, word spreads quickly.

The Black Hills are not immune to the power of the hype machine.

————————- RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Summit League Preview ————————-

Cody Larson was supposed to be the “Next Big Thing” to come out of South Dakota.

He was supposed to be the heir apparent to the state’s most famous athlete, and that speculation was only fueled when he followed in Miller’s footsteps, committing to play basketball at Florida. He enrolled at the school in the summer of 2010, but his time associated with the Gators only generated headlines for his off-court issues. He had plenty.

As a senior in high school, Larson was kicked off of the Roosevelt High team, in February of 2010, and barred from having any contact with them during their run through the state tournament. According to Larson, the suspension and resulting charge was a result of sharing hydrocodone leftover from his knee surgery a year prior with a teammate battling shin splints. He pleaded guilty that May to inhabiting a room where drugs are knowingly kept and used and was given a 120-day suspended sentence and two years’ probation.

He violated that probation a year later in a bizarre incident that took place in St. Augustine, Florida. Larson, who was redshirting that season, went out drinking with teammate Erik Murphy and a team manager. They ended up arrested and charged with felony burglary for allegedly breaking into a car, their mug shots and a recording of the players from the backseat of a police cruiser going viral. Larson avoided jailtime for the probation violation, getting his suspended sentence reinstated and an additional two years of probation tacked on.

Larson was reinstated to the team in October of 2011, seeing action in 25 games during the 2011-12 season, but after the season was over, Larson had his scholarship pulled by head coach Billy Donovan. He was allowed to remain on the roster as a walk-on, but he would have to prove that he was worthy of remaining on scholarship.

That didn’t last, as Larson made the decision to leave the program just a couple of weeks prior to the start of the season. “I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to play basketball anymore,” Larson told NBCSports.com in an interview earlier this month. He stayed in school in Florida, taking classes while he tried to figure out what the next step in his life would be.

“At the time, it was putting to much pressure on me,” he said. “I wasn’t making the best decisions.”

It didn’t take Larson long to realize that he missed basketball, and it took less time for him to decide that South Dakota State — located in Brookings, a 45 minute drive from his Sioux Falls home — was the place for him. He had played with or against a number of the kids on the roster, and he already had a relationship with the coaching staff, as SDSU targeted Larson’s AAU program, the Dakota Schoolers. His sister plays on the school’s volleyball team.

He visited the campus when he was home from Christmas break and committed to the Jackrabbits in May of 2013, receiving a waiver from the NCAA that allowed him to avoid having to sit out a year.

Larson would be playing college basketball during the 2013-14 season.

He would also be returning home as the homegrown prodigy that couldn’t cut it at one of the best programs in the country; the “Next Big Thing” who had spent more time on probation than on a college basketball roster.

That’s enough to hurt anyone’s pride.

“I’m not going to lie and say that there wasn’t times of disappointment,” Larson said. “But I’ve grown up a bunch, and I’ve learned to kind of channel my anxieties and my worries in healthier ways.”

There would be plenty of those anxieties and worries as Larson headed home to a community that was well aware of his history. The South Dakota State administration trusted head coach Scott Nagy’s decision when it came to bringing Larson into the program, but it wasn’t the administration’s opinion that Nagy was concerned about. It was the fanbase, the alumni and the boosters of the program. A “large contingent” of SDSU alums live down in Sioux Falls, and Larson’s name is well-known in that city.

“I think people had some preconceived notions based on what they were reading,” Nagy said. “It would have been easy for him to avoid coming back to South Dakota, just because of what everybody thought and because he may have been perceived as a failure and all these things. I think what he’s done is take on the challenge.”

To date, SDSU has had no problems with Larson. He’s been a straight-A student since he’s gotten to campus, and as one of two seniors on the roster this season, he’s grown into being a leader for this, a guy Nagy credits for being a great teammate that has helped developed camaraderie on a team that lost quite a bit to graduation last season.

That’s not necessarily something that people in Larson’s past would have seen coming, and it’s a testament to the work he’s put in on developing himself.

“I kind of realized that [basketball] was a big part of who I was,” Larson said. “There’s just so much that you can learn about life through the game of basketball that I took for granted when I was down in Florida. I realized that and I regretted that.”

He realized that he was lucky enough to get a second — and a third — chance. He also realized that, in addition to returning to a place where his failures would be scrutinized, he’d be coming back to a home where he had people that cared enough about him and his future to make sure his didn’t blow this final chance.

“The community has [been a lot more receptive] than I thought they would be,” Larson said. “I have a lot of friends and family up in this area. And the team, they just welcomed me with open arms.”

“The biggest thing is being responsible with my time. I’ve gotten so much better about that. I got into trouble down in Florida and up here when I’m not being responsible. It’s just maturing and channelling my anxieties and my worries in a healthy way. The staff up here has been great with that. If I have a problem, I can go straight to them. If they can’t help me, they find somebody who can.”

And while Larson, who averaged 13.1 points and 7.0 boards last season, is focused on finding a way to get this group through the Summit League and into the NCAA tournament, he’s also trying to figure out what he’s going to do with himself after the season. Play professionally? Go to med school? Become a psychiatrist?

He hasn’t decided yet, but he’s glad he’s got options.

“I’m just trying to get through practice and make sure my homework’s done on time.”

2014-2015 Season Preview: NDSU, SDSU take step back in Summit League hierarchy

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Scott Sutton (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Summit League.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Turnover is the name of the game for the Summit League as we head into the 2014-2015 season. There will be five new head coaches in the nine-team league and that doesn’t include Scott Sutton, the head coach at Oral Roberts, who will return to the conference after a two-year stint in the Southland. Just one first-team all-conference player is back this season, and among those who have left were the league’s best player (Taylor Braun) and biggest personality (former North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips).

That said, the Summit League should end up being one of the tightest conference races in the country this year, as the separation between the top teams in the conference is quite small.

Our pick to win the regular season title is Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles had enjoyed a terrific run near the top of the Summit League for a decade-and-a-half before the school got swept up in the realignment chaos and wound up in the Southland. After a two year hiatus, Sutton is back with one of his better teams. Senior Obi Emegano is healthy after tearing his ACL last season and junior guard Korey Billbury had a terrific sophomore campaign in Emegano’s absence. Losing Shawn Glover will hurt, but the key for ORU will be whether Brandon Conley takes a step forward this season.

ORU’s biggest challenger will be Joe Scott’s Denver Pioneers. While he loses Chris Udofia to graduation, Scott does return Brett Olson, a first-team all-conference guard last year and our Preseason Player of the Year. He’s a sharp-shooter who hit more than 50 percent from three in league play, but he’s also going to have to learn to be “the guy”. In total, the Pioneers bring back four starters from last year. Denver joined the Summit prior to the 2013-2014 season.

New IPFW head coach Jon Coffman will enter this season without three of the Mastodons’ top six players from a year ago, but he does get back sophomore point guard Mo Evans, who is expected to be one of the league’s breakout stars, as well as big man Steve Forbes. Forbes is a dominating presence in the paint, but he only averaged 21.3 minutes as a junior due to fitness and foul trouble.

South Dakota State loses a number of key pieces, but former Florida big man Cody Larson will be one of the league’s most athletic players. The Jackrabbits will also get a boost when former Wisconsin point guard George Marshall gets eligible in December. North Dakota State will be without Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and former head coach Saul Phillips, but the Bison have built a strong enough program to withstand the turnover. Expect big seasons from Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown.

source:
Brett Olson (AP Photo)

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Oral Roberts
Out: None

PRESEASON SUMMIT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Brett Olson, Denver

Olson is the only player from last season’s all-Summit first-team to be returning to school this season after averaging 14.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards. He shot 51.5% from beyond the arc in league play, but with Chris Udofia graduating, Joe Scott is going to need Olson to take on a more commanding role this season if the Pioneers are going to play their way out of a tough, balanced conference.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SUMMIT LEAGUE TEAM:

  • Cody Larson, South Dakota State, Sr.: Larson, who began his career at Florida, might be the bst athlete in the conference.
  • Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts, Jr.: Emegano was on pace to have a huge season in 2013-2014 but tore his ACL in the fourth game of the year.
  • Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State, Sr.: A four-year starter at the point, Alexander will be the catalyst for the Bison, will have plenty of scoring to replace.
  • Steve Forbes, IPFW, Sr.: The big fella needs to get in shape and stay out of foul trouble, but he’s a monster when he does.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @TerryVandrovec

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Oral Roberts
2. Denver
3. IPFW
4. South Dakota State
5. North Dakota State
6. South Dakota
7. Western Illinois
8. Nebraska-Omaha
9. IUPUI

Florida transfer Cody Larson’s waiver approved at South Dakota State

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Cody Larson has been cleared by the NCAA to play immediately at South Dakota State.

The Florida transfer received a legislative release waiver for a one-time transfer exception on Monday, meaning that he’ll have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2013-2014.

“We want to thank the committee and the NCAA for taking the time to look at Cody’s waiver,” head coach Scott Nagy said in a release. “We appreciate the fact that this ruling allows him the opportunity to be eligible to compete immediately.”

A star in South Dakota during his high school days, Larson couldn’t find a way to stay out of trouble once he committed to Florida. He was suspended from his high school team as a senior after an incident with prescription pain pills and was suspended by Florida following a bizarre incident outside a bar in Florida in which he allegedly tried to break into a car after sneaking into a bar after closing time to ask about a lost wallet.

He did not meet the requirements set forth by Billy Donovan to remain on the team after the 2011-2012 season, and thus spent last year focusing on improving his academics and life off the court instead of playing basketball.

Larson is a talented basketball player, and better than a typical Summit League athlete. With the Jackrabbits losing Nate Wolters to graduation this offseason, he’s the kind of pick-up that could help them avoid sliding back in the league standings. Larson hasn’t played in two years, but there’s something to be said for an athlete that has had his career taken away from him.

Larson is getting a second chance and, if he makes the most of it, the risk Nagy took bringing him in will look ingenious.

Cody Larson leaves Florida basketball

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Friday afternoon, redshirt sophomore forward, Cody Larson announced that he has left the Florida men’s basketball team.

“After a lot of careful thought, I have decided that I need to place my focus on my personal life and my academics,” said Larson in a press release from the University of Florida. “I really appreciate Coach (Billy) Donovan and the whole staff here at Florida for the support they have given me and that made this decision even harder.”

Larson sat out the 2010-2011 season with a redshirt. The 6-foot-9 forward couldn’t find a role last year’s Gators team that finished 26-11 and a trip to the Elite Eight. Larson played in 25 of Florida’s 37 games, only averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds per game.

It appeared the Larson would be asked to play a bigger role this season for the Gators. Although he struggled to make an impact on the floor, the reserve forward made headlines off the floor.

In April 2011, Larson was arrested, along with teammate, Erik Murphy, charged with one count of third-degree burglary after allegedly attempting to break into a car outside a St. Augustine bar.

In the summer, head coach Billy Donovan took away Larson’s scholarship, but Larson stayed on as a walk-on. Larson will remain at Florida, taking classes, for the remainder of the fall semester.

“I know this was a difficult decision for Cody,” said Donovan in the release. “He has made great strides in his personal growth and I’m very proud of him for that. All of us here wish him the best as he moves on from our team.”

Florida enters the season ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll released Friday. The Gators open the season against Georgetown on Nov. 9.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne