Ellenson leaves basketball program

Wally Ellenson did not play in a single minute of Big Ten play for the team.

Minnesota high jumper Wally Ellenson practices at Bierman Athletic Field on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota high jumper Wally Ellenson practices at Bierman Athletic Field on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

Jace Frederick

Wally Ellenson hasn’t played a single minute in the Big Ten this season. And apparently, he didn’t like that.

Ellenson has decided to leave the men’s basketball team, the University announced Tuesday afternoon. The Rice Lake, Wis., native will instead join the men’s track and field team full time.

Ellenson is a world-class high jumper. He won a gold medal at the 2013 Pan American Junior Championships last summer. And before that, the sophomore tied for eighth at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

“He’s got some talent,” men’s track and field head coach Steve Plasencia said.

Ellenson was a three-star basketball recruit coming out of high school. He played in 18 games in two seasons with the Gophers and averaged 1.9 points per game.

He leaves the team with five games left in the regular- season slate.

“I think the timing more than anything was probably a little surprising,” head men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino said, “but he wasn’t playing a lot.

“I know that was frustrating for him, and that’s always frustrating for anybody.”

The timing, however, makes a little more sense considering the men’s track and field team has just one weekend before the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Ellenson is already preparing to jump in the event — he practiced Tuesday and will compete this weekend.

“We’ll see where he’s at,” Plasencia said. “He came out a few days after basketball season had ended last year, and he did some pretty good jumping.”

Plasencia said he’s had conversations with Ellenson over the past few months, but he said he found out about the decision from Ellenson’s father.

While the men’s basketball team is responsible for Ellenson’s scholarship for the rest of the semester, his departure opens up another scholarship for the team in the 2014-15 season. In sports like track and field, full scholarships are rare.

“In a sport like ours, we’re dividing scholarships up and giving portions out to people,” Plasencia said.

Plasencia wouldn’t elaborate on whether Ellenson would still receive a full scholarship going forward.

While Ellenson should make an instant impact on the track and field team, men’s basketball player Austin Hollins said his exit won’t distract the basketball team.

“Wally’s a great young man,” Hollins said. “He just wants to focus more on track and field, and I hope for the best for Wally.”