Trevor Mbakwe working on jumper, beefing up in draft preparation
JUN 17, 2013 9:08p ET
The St. Paul native is hoping the road ultimately leads to the NBA.
Mbakwe was in town Monday for a pre-draft workout with his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves. The St. Paul native starred for the University of Minnesota from 2010-13 but also had several off-the-court issues and a major knee injury that have popped up as red flags during his nine workouts with NBA teams.
Mbakwe has been asked plenty about his DUI prior to his senior season and his assault charges in Miami, to which he pleaded no contest. There's also the issue of his surgically repaired right knee; he tore his ACL during what should have been his senior season but ultimately was granted a sixth year of eligibility and returned for one more year last season.
Teams have seen what Mbakwe is capable of on the court. They want to know more about the type of person Mbakwe is away from the hardwood.
"Obviously I'm coming off my ACL injury and some off-the-court things that happened," Mbakwe said Monday. "That's definitely one of the main things teams talk to me about. I knew that coming in. It's something I had to experience some troubles, some things I couldn't handle, some things I could. I think after talking to these guys, they've got a good impression. ...
"I've made some mistakes, but everybody does. I've learned from them."
Mbakwe's college basketball career began at Marquette, where he played just one season before transferring to Miami Dade Community College. He was there for a year until he moved back home to play for the Gophers. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Mbakwe had a breakthrough junior season. He led the Big Ten in rebounding with 10.5 boards per game and added 13.9 points per contest.
After a torn ACL kept him out for most of the 2011-12 season, Mbakwe returned last year and proved he can still be an effective player even after his surgery. He scored 10.0 points and grabbed 8.7 rebounds to help lead the Gophers to the NCAA tournament.
If the 6-foot-8 Mbakwe hopes to play in the NBA, he knows he'll likely be undersized as a power forward. He said Monday that he hopes to play at 250 pounds in the NBA; he played at 235 pounds with the Gophers.
"He's going against 6-9 guys at that position, so he can't be bullied in there," said Timberwolves director of basketball operations Flip Saunders. "His biggest thing is he's going to have to play a power forward. He's undersized. I really believe he's got the talent to play in the league, but he's had some issues as far as with his knees. In the NBA, when you have those types of issues, instead of playing 30 games, now you're playing 82. That's something you really have to look at."
Mbakwe was an inside force with the Gophers, but he showed Saunders and others on Monday that his jump shot is much-improved from his college days. As a senior, Mbakwe was a 56.5 percent shooter, but most of those shots came around the rim. He spent two months in Atlanta preparing for the draft, and a lot of that time was spent on his jump shot.
Having that mid-range jumper in his arsenal could be key for Mbakwe to land with an NBA team.
"I think just the way that we played (at Minnesota), I was predominantly inside," Mbakwe said. "Going to the next level, I'm not going to be bigger and stronger than everybody I'm playing against, so that's definitely something I'm going to have to improve on to be able to play to the best of my abilities going forward.
Depending on which mock drafts you look at, Mbakwe could go anywhere from mid-second round to undrafted. He said he's not too concerned about where his name might be called.
The Timberwolves pick twice in the second round at No. 52 and No. 59. Saunders -- himself a Minnesota alum -- has watched Mbakwe closely for years. He was often seen at Williams Arena to take in Minnesota's games. Now that he's in charge of the Timberwolves, Saunders will be calling the shots on draft night later this month.
There's a mutual admiration between Mbakwe and Saunders. Will it result in the former Gophers forward staying in Minnesota on draft night?
"Coach Saunders has been great. He's a Gophers legend," Mbakwe said. "I've known him for a while. He was one of the first guys I met when I first came here for an official visit. He's great. He's going to do great things for the Timberwolves. I'd be lucky to be able to wear a Timberwolves jersey."
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter
+ SHOW COMMENTS +