Jen Smith on Basketball

Star guard Harper asks for transfer

One of Kentucky’s leading returning players, Linnae Harper, has decided to part ways with the school, an official confirmed on Monday night.

In a lengthy statement posted to her Twitter account, the 5-foot-8 guard and former McDonald’s All-American does not say why she decided to leave UK nor where she plans to go, saying instead that “the decision was not easy for me.

“But with the support from my family and continuously praying, I have come to the conclusion that I will not finish my career here at UK,” she said, noting that it was one of the toughest decisions of her life.

Attempts to reach Harper and her mother, Ericka, were unsuccessful.

In a statement released through a team spokesman, Coach Matthew Mitchell confirmed that Harper was planning to transfer. He has not yet said if there will be any limitations put on her destination.

“We appreciate everything Linnae gave our program in her two years here and we wish her nothing but the best on and off the court moving forward,” Mitchell said in the statement.

Harper was one of three returning starters for Kentucky this season, leading the Cats in rebounding at 7.1 boards a game last season while scoring 9.2 points a game. She was named a member of the Southeastern Conference’s All-Defensive Team.

The Chicago native, who was high school teammates with UK senior point guard Janee Thompson, played in 69 games for the Cats with 17 starts, all last season.

In her statement, Harper thanked everyone connected with Kentucky, from coaches, teammates, administrators and fans.

To her teammates, Harper said that the “bond that we have can never be broken even being miles away. I love each and every one of you.”

To the UK staff, Harper said: “the loyalty you all showed me will never go unnoticed.”

Early in the letter after thanking the school’s president and athletics director, she thanks Mitchell for “investing his time into me.

“He has been a help in guiding me into becoming a great woman of substance and person of character.”

The 2013 McDonald’s All-American was a member of the Pan American team that won a silver medal this summer. She spent most of the summer away from the team and team activities. Mitchell attended one of her games in Toronto.

In an interview with the Herald-Leader two weeks ago, Mitchell said Harper was still trying to get back up to speed after playing internationally this summer and that she was doing extra work in the mornings.

Her time away “created a challenge because they play a different pace than we play, so it’s just a transition for her to get back,” Mitchell said. “She’s a little bit further behind where she would be, but it’s not anything I’m real concerned about. … It’s been tough on her, but she’ll get back there.”

At the Kentucky Media Day a week ago, the junior guard said she was excited about the team, which she said had formed a strong bond.

“We’re much younger than last year, but this year I think we have just as much talent,” she said. The effort, how hard we work is very high and the expectations within ourselves are high so we can come out together, have chemistry and play hard and do what we do best.”

The bond was off the court, too, she said, listing it among her favorite things.

“We’re all very nice and close,” Harper continued. “Off the court, we spend a lot of time together and I think that will help us on the court when we hit adversity and face obstacles.”