Minnesota loses Mbakwe for season to knee tear
Minnesota has an unfortunate habit of losing important players
to injuries and off-the-court issues since coach Tubby Smith took
This hit to their NCAA tournament hopes was the most devastating
of all: Star power forward Trevor Mbakwe will miss the rest of the
season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right
knee, robbing the Gophers of their top scorer, rebounder and
Mbakwe’s knee bent awkwardly when he was fighting for rebound
position in Sunday’s loss to Dayton during the championship game of
the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. Mbakwe left the arena in
tears and on crutches, and on Monday the university confirmed the
worst-case diagnosis from team Dr. Brad Nelson.
Mbakwe, a senior, will have surgery to repair the injury
sometime in the next few weeks.
”Lord please get me through this,” Mbakwe posted on his
Twitter feed on Sunday night, before an MRI test confirmed the ACL
tear. In a statement distributed by the school on Monday, Mbakwe
said he and his family ”would like to thank everyone for their
The Gophers (6-1) were unavailable for comment on Monday. They
host Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
”Trevor’s done everything we’ve asked him to do in his time
here at the University of Minnesota. He’s been through an awful
lot,” Smith said in a prepared statement. ”That says a lot about
his toughness to be able to recover from the things he has already
Mbakwe’s freshman season at Marquette ended early because of a
different knee injury. He played at Miami-Dade Community College
the next year, finding trouble off the court when a woman accused
him of felony battery for allegedly punching her in the face.
The case dragged on for a year, and he eventually entered a
pretrial program though the agreement was not considered an
admission of guilt. Mbakwe blamed the charge on mistaken
But he had to sit out and take a redshirt the 2009-10 season
with his legal status uncertain. Then with his powerful potential
finally unfolding, Mbakwe was arrested last January for an alleged
violation of a restraining order for sending a greeting on Facebook
to a former girlfriend.
Smith took him out of the starting lineup for three games, but
he avoided suspension and finished with 327 rebounds, the
third-highest total for a single season in program history and the
most by a Gophers player in 40 years. Mbakwe also led Minnesota
with 13.9 points per game and was the best rebounder in the Big
Named to the Preseason All-Big Ten first team last month, Mbakwe
was averaging 14 points and 9.1 rebounds before the injury this
season. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Mbakwe evaluated his NBA draft
prospects in the spring before withdrawing his name and deciding to
return for his senior year.
This is the latest in what has been a long line of stunning
setbacks for Smith and the Gophers the last three years.
Last January, junior guard Devoe Joseph decided to transfer to
Oregon after he was suspended for academic issues among unspecified
violations of team rules. Senior guard Al Nolen broke his foot
later that month and didn’t play again, the year after he was
suspended for the second semester for falling behind in class.
Prized recruit Royce White, now at Iowa State, left the program two
years ago after legal trouble kept him off the court.
But none of those losses hit the team as hard as Mbakwe’s injury
The other frontcourt starters, 6-foot-11 senior Ralph Sampson
and 6-foot-7 junior Rodney Williams, have been inconsistent and not
tough around the basket like Mbakwe. Sophomore Maurice Walker, who
is 6-foot-10 and 289 pounds, hasn’t played yet this season, still
recovering from knee surgery that ended his freshman year early.
That leaves freshman Elliott Eliason and junior Andre Ingram to
None of them has close to the experience or the strength that
”You hurt for him, but you know he’s a guy that has the will
power and has been through it before and can recover again,” Smith
said in the statement. ”We are certainly going to miss him. He’s
having a great year. He’s our leader. He’s been a big emotional
leader for us. Our players look up to Trevor, not just because of
his talent, but because of his work ethic, and the type of person
Smith added: ”The team has watched what he’s had to deal with
and overcome, and I think that endears you-me, too-to a person like
him. He knows that we’re here for him, and we will do whatever we
can do to help him through this process.”