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Pitt reserve Richardson elects to transfer

Three weeks ago the Pitt men's basketball team was two scholarships over the 13-player limit.

Now the Panthers could end up with one to spare.

In the latest shakeup, reserve sophomore forward J.J. Richardson has opted to transfer and was released from his scholarship by the university.

Richardson's departure, announced by Pitt yesterday, comes 17 days after all-Big East junior guard Ashton Gibbs decided to test the NBA waters by entering his name into the draft. One day later, 2011 recruit Jaylen Bond de-committed to enroll in a prep school.

The NCAA allows teams to carry 13 scholarship players during a season.

Richardson, a seldom-used 6-foot-7, 235-pounder, said he wants to be closer to his hometown of Houston while pursuing more playing time.

"I just wanted to go somewhere better for me," he said. "I definitely loved my time here. I loved it here as a player and a student. I learned a lot here, and I'm going to miss everybody."

Richardson's decision leaves Pitt with 13 scholarship players, but that could change depending on Gibbs, who has until May 8 to decide whether to return to Pitt or hire an agent and remain the draft. If Gibbs leaves, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is eyeing 2011 Brewster (N.H.) Academy senior Eli Carter, regarded as one of the top unsigned guards in the nation.

The high-energy Richardson was popular in the locker room and best known for leading the pregame dance at Petersen Events Center while encircled by his bobbing teammates.

"I'm gonna miss them," he said. "We got along like we were brothers. We did everything together. When you spend two years with somebody, it's hard to break that."

Richardson averaged 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds in 23 games this past season, scoring a total of four points in 12 Big East games. Playing behind Dante Taylor, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna -- and with the arrival of McDonald's All-American power forward Khem Birch and 6-foot-11 center Malcolm Gilbert -- Richardson likely would have struggled again for minutes next season.

He said Friday that he's not sure what school — or level — he will pursue, other than to say, "I'm not going to go (Division) II." He could enroll in a Division I school and sit out a year or opt for a junior college.

"It's up in the air," he said. "I'm going to go somewhere closer to home and closer to Texas."

Richardson is the third bench-bound big man to transfer in four years, following power forward Dwight Miller — also a Texas native — last year and center Cassin Diggs in 2008.

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