Men's hoops freshman Larson humbled by community service

Published: Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 11:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 11:50 p.m.

While friends and classmates spent their final weeks before college at graduation parties, Florida freshman forward Cody Larson served food at homeless shelters and spoke at group homes.

“It was a real humbling experience,” Larson said. “I’ve moved past it though. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from it and I’m just kind of moving on.”

The 6-foot-9 Larson is battling for a spot in the Florida frontcourt rotation this fall. But the four-star big man recruit from Sioux Falls, S.D., nearly let a promising future college basketball career slip away before it ever started.

Larson received two years probation last May after reaching a plea deal on misdemeanor drug charges. Larson shared the prescription drug Hydrocodone with a high school teammate while rehabbing from an ankle injury, according to police records.

“It is what it is,” Larson said. “I can’t really say too much about it anymore. It’s in the past and I’m trying to move on and learn from it.”

Part of the plea deal included community service, which was why Larson volunteered at soup kitchens last spring.

“(I learned) not to take anything for granted,” Larson said. “Appreciate the opportunities I have, especially at Florida.”

Florida coach Billy Donovan was satisfied with Larson’s explanation of events when the two met during an April recruiting visit. Larson and his family were up front about the arrest and charges. Iowa granted Larson a release from his letter of intent after the school fired former coach Todd Lickliter.

“It was a case of a young man who was very, very naive in a lot of ways,” Donovan said.

Donovan said Larson comes to Florida with a clean slate. He’s not being treated differently than any of the five members of UF’s freshman class because of his past legal problems.

“I talk to him a lot about trying to make good decisions like I do all of those guys,” Donovan said. “He seems to be happy, he seems to have adjusted pretty well.

“Cody is a very unassuming kid, he doesn’t say a whole lot, he’s very, very nice. I can’t watch over somebody 24 hours a day, but I can at least check in with him, talk with him, communicate with him, make sure he’s doing OK. And everything that I’ve gotten back on him is he’s doing OK.”

Larson said he doesn’t want to let Donovan down after getting a second chance.

“I’ve learned some lessons and I’ve made some changes in my life,” Larson said. “He’s understood that and he’s talked to me about that. We just kind of talk back and forth every once in a while to see how things are going, making sure I’m doing the right things.

“He knows that it’s a hard time for me and that I’ve moved on and I’ve learned from it. He’s trusted me and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

On the court, the 6-foot-9 Larson has impressed teammates with his ability to run the floor and score in transition. Larson comes from the same state as former Gator standout and current Miami Heat forward Mike Miller. Though the 225-pound Larson doesn’t shoot as well as Miller from the perimeter, he’s held his own in post battles with Vernon Macklin and freshman teammate Patric Young.

“Cody has been a little bit timid, he doesn’t have his confidence all the way,” Young said. “He’ll surprise you with his athleticism. He’s willing to learn. He always wants to do the right thing.”

As for Larson’s dunking ability, Young said, “He doesn’t do 360 stuff but he’ll get up there and throw it down with two hands really nice.”

Larson said the early battles in the post have helped establish some toughness.

“Going against guys like Patric Young, Vernon Macklin down in the post is definitely going to get guys like me a lot better and it’s a battle,” Larson said. “It’s hard battling him every day but it’s getting me better.”

Larson’s role this season could depend on how quickly he adapts to UF’s motion offense and running, pressing style. At this point, Larson is grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

“I’m just going to help out any way I can,” Larson said. “Coach D wants me to do something, I’ll do it. Whether that’s play defense, rebounding, just work hard and get better every day.”

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