Mbakwe makes bold statement on Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS — Trevor Mbakwe is prepared to put his money (or his scholarship) where his mouth is.

Mbakwe, a senior forward on the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team, tweeted on Sunday that he will repay his scholarship if the Gophers don’t make the NCAA tournament this season.

“I love my teammates. They have always been there for me. If we don’t make the tourney ill pay back this years scholarship. #nolie #gophers,” Mbakwe said on Twitter. “That’s how much I believe in this years team.”

Mbakwe deleted those tweets on Monday morning, but not after several news outlets had picked them up.

When asked after Monday’s exhibition game against Southwest Baptist if the team asked him to take the tweets down, Mbakwe said it was his decision.

“I think it didn’t get the reaction that I thought it was going to,” Mbakwe said. “It was just me showing how much confidence I have in my teammates. It wasn’t supposed to be anything negative. It was just me saying I have faith in this team. I know how hard they work. …

“I apologize if it was a distraction to the teammates or anybody, but that’s just my confidence in our team this year.”

Now that the tweets are gone, does his offer to pay back his scholarship still stand?

“No comment,” Mbakwe laughed.

The average cost of tuition for an in-state resident such as Mbakwe would add up to $13,524, not including lodging and books, according to the university’s website. That could prove to be one expensive promise for Mbakwe if his Gophers fail to make it to the big dance.

Minnesota hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2009-10 season, when the No. 11-seed Gophers lost in the first round to sixth-seeded Xavier. After Mbakwe went down early last season with a torn ACL, Minnesota failed to make the NCAA tournament but instead made a deep run in the NIT, losing to Stanford in the championship game.

Mbakwe was granted a sixth year of eligibility after his injury and has had a winding path to get to this point. The St. Paul native played his freshman season at Marquette before transferring to Miami Dade Community College for his sophomore year. He then came back home to Minnesota, where he led the Big Ten in rebounding during the 2010-11 season with 10.5 boards per game and was Minnesota’s leading scorer (13.9 points per game).

Along the way, Mbakwe has had his share of run-ins off the court. The latest was a DWI this summer in the Twin Cities, but Gophers coach Tubby Smith did not suspend Mbakwe for any games.

In just seven games last year before his injury, Mbakwe was averaging 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. If the Gophers are indeed to make the NCAA tournament, they’ll likely rely heavily on the 6-foot-8 forward.

Mbakwe followed up his tweet about paying back his scholarship by tweeting: “Some ppl say I’m cocky but that’s not the case I just know how hard my teammate have worked and I believe in them and our coach #easychoice.”

Mbakwe certainly has confidence in what his Gophers teammates are capable of doing this year. His teammates are also confident in what Mbakwe brings to the table and knew he had good intentions with his tweets.

“I definitely like to see the confidence in him,” said senior forward Rodney Williams. “But now we definitely don’t have a choice. We have to go make some noise because that’s going to be tough to go pay back. We’re going to make some noise for him.”

In recovering from last year’s knee injury, Mbakwe said he feels great and has no limitations as to what he can or can’t do because of the reconstructive surgery. He played just 11 minutes in the Gophers’ exhibition game against Minnesota State on Thursday, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds. Monday, he chipped in three points and three rebounds in 11 minutes in another exhibition win against Southwest Baptist.

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