Shawn Lester

Junior guard decides to leave Charlotte program

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After finishing the 2013-14 season with a 17-14 record (7-9 Conference USA), Charlotte enters the 2014-15 season with hopes of improving on those marks. Head coach Alan Major welcomes back an experienced backcourt led by senior Pierria Henry, and Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze will help from a depth standpoint after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.

One player whose role may have changed as a result of the number of guards capable of earning playing time was junior guard Shawn Lester, who averaged 11.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season despite making just one start. However Lester won’t factor into the 49ers’ plans, as it was announced Thursday that he’s decided to leave the program in order to pursue professional opportunities.

“Although we are saddened that Shawn will not be with us, we are fully supporting him and his family as he makes this transition,” Major said in the school release. “We thank him for his efforts, and he will be a Niner for life.”

In addition to Henry, who led the team in points, assists and steals in 2013-14, Charlotte returns Terrence Williams (10.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Ivan Benkovic will return to the floor after sitting out all of last season with a back injury. Freshmen Torin Dorn Jr. and Keyshawn Woods will also look to compete for playing time.

Holding onto Lester would have given Charlotte an experienced option off the bench who’s proven that he can provide some extra scoring. But they do have the depth needed to account for his departure, even with the timing of the move being a bit peculiar.

Report: Charlotte loses a top three-point threat

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During the past two seasons, Charlotte’s coach Alan Major has significantly cut down the amount of three-point attempts his squad takes. The team’s three-point rate ranked among the lowest in DI in 2013 and 2014, and though the 49ers don’t take many long-range shots, they did make quite a few this season — Charlotte made 36 percent of their shots. According to a report from Jon Rothstein, though, Charlotte will lose one of their top shooters to transfer: sophomore Denzel Ingram will transfer from the Conference USA program and have two years of eligibility remaining.

Ingram used more than 50 percent of the team’s minutes as a freshman, and while his usage rate remained essentially stagnant as a soph, he spent his offseason refining his three-point shot. Ingram increased his percentage to 44.1 percent, making nearly twenty more threes in his second year, and emerged as one of the team’s best scoring threats from the perimeter.

The 49ers should still be a threat in conference play in 2104-14; other than Ingram and departing senior Ben Cherry, Major shouldn’t lose any other players. The trio of Willie Clayton, Shawn Lester, and Pierria Henry should be able to offensively carry the team, but Ingram’s loss deprives Major of a complimentary scoring threat.