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USF freshman center Egbunu leaving Bulls program

TAMPA — University of South Florida men’s basketball player John Egbunu, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound center who emerged last season as one of the nation’s top freshman post players, has been released from his USF scholarship and will transfer, the school announced Tuesday.

Egbunu, named to the American Athletic Conference’s all-rookie team, cannot go to another conference team.

He is the fifth player to leave USF after the firing of head coach Stan Heath, including Josh Heath, the former coach’s son who has landed at Georgia Tech, sophomore forward Zach LeDay, senior guard Musa Abdul-Aleem and sophomore guard JaVontae Hawkins.

New USF head coach Orlando Antigua, the former Kentucky assistant, currently has a roster with six scholarship players, including two freshmen, Dre Clayton and Bo Zeigler, who didn’t play last season. Junior point guard Anthony Collins, a preseason second-team All-AAC selection, is set to graduate this spring and could be immediately eligible at another school if he transfers.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have signed two players, Oldsmar Christian’s Troy Holston and Faith Baptist’s Dinero Mercurius.

Egbunu, a native of Nigeria who came to America in 2010, graduated from Fort Walton Beach High School after also attending Eagle’s Landing High School in McDonough, Ga. He averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds while starting 31 of 32 games last season, when 55 of his 89 made field goals were dunks.

Egbunu, who had a 40-inch vertical leap and could touch the top of the backboard, became USF’s all-time freshman leader in rebounds (198) and was second in blocked shots (43).

“John has so much upside it’s scary,’’ Stan Heath said last season. “He’s a force right now as a shot blocker, an interior guy who can attack the rim and he runs like a deer.’’

Egbunu also took pressure off fellow freshman and All-ACC rookie team member Chris Perry (8.9 points, 5.3 rebounds), a 6-foot-8, 266-pound Bartow native who spoke often about how his development was enhanced by his teammate’s interior presence.

“I think John and I will do a lot of great things here,’’ Perry said during the season. Now that double-edged possibility is gone.

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USF freshman center Egbunu leaving Bulls program