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Colton Iverson, at right, is leaving the Gophers men's basketball team.

Michael Conroy, Associated Press

GOPHERS BASKETBALL

Iverson is U's latest departure under Smith

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF
  • Star Tribune
  • March 26, 2011 - 1:04 AM

Junior center Colton Iverson joined a growing list of Gophers who have transferred during coach Tubby Smith's tenure when he left the program earlier this week.

Five players, including Iverson, have left the team since February 2010.

"I can confirm that I have been granted a release of scholarship," Iverson wrote in an e-mail Friday. "I just want to say that my experience at the U has been great but my family and I [have] decided that it is best for me to move on. Minnesota is a proud program and I wish them the best of luck in the future."

Iverson's former AAU coach, Lance Friesen, said Friday that the Yankton, S.D., native sought his release last week but the school didn't permit Iverson to leave until Wednesday.

Team spokesman Matt Slieter said he could not "confirm or deny" Iverson's decision. But another source close to the program confirmed Friday that Iverson had left the team.

Friesen said coaching staff initially asked Iverson to reconsider. Then, it imposed stipulations that forbid him from transferring to another Big Ten school or to a program that the Gophers are scheduled to face next season.

"It was a little bit of a process," Friesen said. "... They asked him to think it over."

Friesen said Iverson is not sure where he will go but is looking forward to a new situation. He didn't specify Iverson's reasons for leaving. Iverson did not respond to the Star Tribune's interview requests Friday night.

He can play for an NCAA Division II or III school next season, but if he transfers to a Division I program, he won't be allowed to play until 2012-13.

"I knew that he was maybe thinking about it, but it didn't shock me," Friesen said. "I know he loves the school and his teammates."

Iverson showed promise -- albeit in spurts -- throughout his three years with the Gophers. He made the All-Big Ten tournament team last year, and in stretches he looked like the best center on the roster.

But he was inconsistent, too. This season, he averaged 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game.

Redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason and first-year center Maurice Walker, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in December, are expected to contribute next season. Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe might consider their pro options, but both could return for their senior seasons, so there was no guarantee that Iverson would log major minutes had he decided to stay.

Friesen said Iverson will look for the right fit, one that will help the 6-11 center develop into a player who can compete professionally. "I think being able to play after college is probably going to be a pretty high priority for him," he said.

Whatever Iverson's reasons for leaving, his former coach will attract more scrutiny. Since February 2010, Royce White, Paul Carter, Justin Cobbs, Devoe Joseph and now Iverson have left Smith's program. A team that went 6-12 in Big Ten play this season and didn't play in a postseason tournament could have used the extra talent.

As Smith negotiates an extension, the program looks as if it could be headed for another offseason of instability.

"I can't say that there's anything else [to Iverson's decision]," Friesen said. "I know he liked living there. He's never really said anything negative to me about Tubby. I think he has a lot of respect for him."

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