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KT Harrell leaves Virginia basketball program

Virginia coach Tony Bennett announced Friday that sophomore guard KT Harrell is leaving the Cavalier basketball program and intends to transfer.

The 6-foot-4, 202-pound native of Montgomery, Ala. becomes the fifth player to depart from the team during Bennett's three-year tenure.

"I was disappointed by his decision to leave Virginia," Bennett said in a statement. "I was hoping he would stay, but I appreciate his contributions to our program and wish him the best in the future."

Harrell entered the Virginia program with much aplomb last year. He was listed as a Top 100 Recruit by, and ESPNU and also won the 2010 Gatorade Alabama Boys Basketball Player of the Year award after averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game for Brewbaker Tech Magnet High School.

Harrell posted 10.5 points during the first 19 games of his freshman campaign, but stumbled down the stretch, averaging just 4.1 points in his last 12 contests. He started strong again this season with a 13-point performance against SC State and dropped 14 points in a Nov. 25 game against Green Bay, but has only averaged 3.1 points outside those matchups.

Bennett confirmed in a teleconference Monday that playing time figured prominently in Harrell's decision. After averaging 31.5 minutes per game through the first four contests this season, Harrell's playing time dwindled to 11.7 minutes per game since then. Whereas Harrell played 34 minutes while scoring a team-high 16 points against Seattle a year ago, during his final game as a Cavalier Dec. 21, Harrell played just seven minutes against the Redhawks and scored no points.

"The hardest thing for a coach is knowing your players are working hard and they desperately want to play, and yet with 200 minutes in a game, you know you're not going to be able to keep everybody happy from a playing time perspective," Bennett said. "We're seeing more and more now, players deciding to leave for a number of reasons, but usually playing time is the majority of it early in the process. It used to be you'd give a good two full years, now you're seeing it a little bit more in the first year or midseason, and it's unfortunate."

Harrell's declining role is at least partly attributable to the emergence of freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon and the return of senior guard Sammy Zeglinski from an ankle injury, both of whom have largely crowded out Harrell in an already overcrowded Cavalier backcourt.

However, because Virginia often employs up to four perimeter players, Bennett said he tried to impress upon Harrell that the guard could still contribute and improve. Once Harrell persisted in his decision to leave, Bennett elected to remove freshman Paul Jesperson's redshirt for the remainder of the season. The coach said Jesperson approached him and offered to come off the redshirt in order to give a team with only nine remaining scholarship players some much-needed depth.

"Even though he's missed 11 games, his willingness to help the team and go in that direction is a great sign for our team and Paul," Bennett said. "My hope is that this will give us at least more needed depth if there's foul trouble or injuries, and whatever minutes he gets will help prepare him for next year to be ready."

Virginia is now 10-1, its best start since the 2000-01 season, and resumes play without Harrell Dec. 27 against Maryland-Eastern Shore at John Paul Jones Arena.

"I'm grateful for my experience at Virginia and for my teammates and coaches," Harrell said in a statement. "They were very kind and good to me. I wish them the best."