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Offering ex-Florida forward Cody Larson a fresh start is worth the risk for South Dakota State

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Erik Murphy (Getty Images)

Had Cody Larson opted to attend South Dakota State straight out of high school a few years ago, the highly touted in-state product's decision would have been celebrated as a tremendous recruiting coup.

The response was far more muted Wednesday, however, when Larson announced he is leaving Florida after three tumultuous years and transferring back home to play for the Jackrabbits.

It's difficult to project how big an impact Larson can make at South Dakota State because the former top 100 recruit rarely saw the floor at Florida. Larson played for the Gators just one of his three years in Gainesville, redshirting as a freshman, averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds during the 2011-12 season and leaving the team altogether in October after Billy Donovan pulled his scholarship.

Part of the reason Larson's once-promising career stalled is because of a spate of off-the-court problems.

Larson was suspended during his senior year of high school for sharing prescription pain pills with a teammate. He violated the plea agreement he reached after that incident in April 2011 when he was arrested in St. Augustine for breaking into a vehicle outside a bar after closing time.

Donovan set certain conditions for Larson to meet in order to keep his scholarship for the 2012-13 season, but the 6-foot-9 forward did not satisfy them. He declined to remain on the team as a walk-on last season, opting instead to merely attend classes and focus on his academics and personal issues.

Larson told the Argus Leader he's transferring to South Dakota State because he is ready to move forward with his life and try to rekindle his basketball career again. Depending on the outcome of the petition he'll likely file with the NCAA, he will either play right away with two years eligibility remaining or sit out next season and have only one year of eligibility left.

"I wanted to come closer to home where I can have some fun and just play basketball with no outside distractions," he told the Argus Leader. "Just put my head down and work hard and earn every minute I get."

The sentiment Larson expressed there is spot-on, but there's no question South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy is taking a risk bringing him aboard. It's not easy for small-conference program to find a versatile, skilled 6-foot-9 forward with Larson's pedigree, but it will also be a black eye for the Jackrabbits if they offer a second chance only to see him misbehave again.

Ultimately, however, Larson is probably worth the gamble for a South Dakota State program hoping to remain in the upper echelon of the Summit League even after star guard Nate Wolters' graduation.

It didn't work out for Larson at Florida, but perhaps a change of scenery and some time to mature will do him good.

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