EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's chances of reaching its first NCAA tournament took a hit Tuesday as forward Kevin Coble unexpectedly announced he would not be returning to the team for his senior season.
"Kevin came into my office yesterday and said he had decided he wasn't going to play this year, and he wanted to finish his schooling and get his degree from Northwestern," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "Basically, that's what it is. That's what he wants to do. I respect that. He's a grown man."
Coble, a 6-foot-8 senior, missed the entire 2009-2010 season after injuring his left foot during a preseason practice. Coble led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding during his first three seasons and was expected to again play a key role in the upcoming season.
"I would like to thank Northwestern University and the administration for all that they have done for me," Coble said in a statement. "In addition, the fans have my sincere gratitude for their support of Wildcat basketball. I will miss seeing them at the games. Most importantly, I want to thank my teammates for the opportunity to play with them and I wish them nothing but the best in the upcoming season. There is not a better group of guys than those found on this team and I will miss being on the court with them.
"With that said, the recovery of my foot is most important and extends far beyond my basketball career. I will continue to follow my surgeon's rehabilitation schedule and have been told by my surgeon that I will have a full recovery. I will not be transferring to another school and with that, will be finishing the last of my classes at Northwestern this fall."
Coble finishes his career ranked 14th in Northwestern career scoring with 1,203 points. He averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 rebounds.
"He's a good player. I recognize that," Carmody said. "I think we have a good team. The only player we lose from last year's team is Jeremy Nash, who was important to us. I think our program is about developing guys. Some of the younger guys have gotten better."
Carmody also said he isn't giving up hope on making the NCAA tournament.
"It's another guy. It's a good player that's not going to be here," Carmody said. "Last year we weren't far away. The last three weeks we kind of died a little bit. I feel we're going to be better this year. We're optimistic as a team."
The Wildcats were 7-11 without Coble last season, 20-14 overall and return leading scorer John Shurna, who was fresh off playing with the college group of players competing with the U.S. National Team in practice in Las Vegas last week.
Add the return of top scorers Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson in the backcourt, Luka Mirkovic inside with Shurna and fifth-year senior Jeff Ryan, back from an ACL injury, and Carmody sees another team that can be a factor in the Big Ten. The Wildcats add freshman guard Jershon Cobb, who is expected to contribute immediately.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz was used in this report.