DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa State guard Lucca Staiger stunned the Cyclones on Tuesday by announcing plans to leave the program and pursue professional opportunities in his native Germany.
Staiger, a junior, started all 17 games this season. He averaging 9.4 points and 42.5 percent shooting from 3-point range in his second year with the Cyclones.
Iowa State coach Greg McDermott said Tuesday night that Staiger informed the coaching staff of his decision Tuesday morning, about 36 hours before the Cyclones (12-5, 1-1 Big 12) play at Texas Tech on Wednesday night.
"An opportunity to play professionally in my home country has come my way and I've decided to pursue it right away. I will miss my teammates and the greats fans at Iowa State and I know this is a bad time to leave," Staiger said in a statement released late Tuesday night. "I felt like it was important to make this move now because the opportunity might not be there in the future for me."
Staiger's departure leaves the Cyclones with seven available scholarship players. McDermott indicated Tuesday night that redshirt sophomore guard Scott Christopherson will take Staiger's place in the lineup.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed with the timing of the decision in particular," McDermott said in a hastily assembled teleconference with local reporters. "We don't have any choice but to move forward with the guys we have."
Staiger, 21, had entertained thoughts of leaving for Germany last May to play professionally before deciding to return to school.
Staiger came to Iowa State with dreams of playing in the NBA, but he said Tuesday that after a couple of years in the Big 12 he "realized that dream has become less likely."
Staiger's brief career at Iowa State got off to a shaky start. He was forced to sit out the 2007-08 season and forgo a year of eligibility after the NCAA ruled that several of his teammates on a German club team received stipends deemed to be above actual and necessary expenses.
Staiger stuck it out, though, and in doing so became a fan favorite. Fans chanted "Free Lucca" at Hilton Coliseum while he sat in the stands in street clothes during his first year in Ames.
Staiger was Iowa State's third-leading scorer in 2008-09, averaging 7.8 points per game as the Cyclones stumbled to a 15-17 record.
But things were looking up this year for Staiger and Iowa State, now in its fourth season under McDermott. The Cyclones hung tough with Texas on Jan. 13 before falling 90-83 at home, and on Saturday they beat Nebraska 56-53 to snap a 16-game road losing streak in Big 12 play.
This isn't the first time a starter has left the program under McDermott.
McDermott dismissed guard Mike Taylor, the team's leading scorer in 2006-07, after just one season following a series of legal troubles. But the biggest hit came when Wesley Johnson shocked Iowa State with his decision to transfer in the spring of 2008. Johnson has since found a home with No. 5 Syracuse.
McDermott said Staiger's departure was similar to Johnson's in that "no one saw it coming." Though McDermott and his staff tried to reason with Staiger on Tuesday morning, Staiger's mind had already been made up.
McDermott said Staiger is scheduled to return to Germany on Saturday.
"I hope it's a rallying point for the guys in our program," McDermott said.
That might tough to ask of the now-depleted Cyclones. Iowa State reserve guard Charles Boozer tore the ACL in his right knee against the Longhorns and is out for the season, and freshman guard Chris Colvin was suspended by McDermott until at least February for breaking team rules.
Forward L.A. Pomlee was dismissed from the team for multiple violations of team rules on Jan. 8, and forward Jamie Vanderbeken is out with a leg injury.