Gophers staying with Mbakwe after arrest
This time, an off-the-court matter for Minnesota hasn't led to the loss of a star player.
The Gophers are sticking with leading scorer and rebounder Trevor Mbakwe despite his arrest for allegedly violating a restraining order filed against the junior forward.
The university released a statement Tuesday from athletics director Joel Maturi and coach Tubby Smith confirming that Mbakwe is still with the team, describing the action as ''a lapse in judgment'' and announcing no punishments.
''I believe his actions were well intended, but misguided, and we have made the decision not to suspend him after looking into the matter further,'' Smith said in the statement. ''We believe this is the appropriate thing for Trevor and the program at this time. We view this as an educational opportunity for all of our players.''
Smith won't be available for further comment until after Wednesday's practice. The Gophers host eighth-ranked Purdue on Thursday.
St. Paul prosecutor Sara Grewing said her office is reviewing Mbakwe's case and will determine whether to bring formal charges in the next day or two. If the decision is made to prosecute the case, Grewing said, Mbakwe faces a Jan. 20 court date.
Mbakwe was taken to jail on Monday night on a misdemeanor citation and later released with bail after authorities said he sent a message on Facebook to a former girlfriend who had filed the no-harrasment order in August 2009. The school said Mbakwe had not been in contact with the woman since that date.
The university also included in the news release the entire message Mbakwe sent:
''I know we haven't talked in forever and trust me I'm not trying to start any drama with nobody in your life or anything. I just wanted to wish u the best with everything and I hope all has been well with you and your family. I am still disappointed how everything played out and I do wish that in the future we could be cool again. Idk how u r going to take this msg hopefully its not bad but I just wanted to wish u a happy new year and send out a congrats for graduating. I've been well I'm finally playin bball again in everything down in miami finally got taken care of thank god. Well idk if u will respond or not but best wishes for 2011.''
Mbakwe leads the Gophers (12-4, 1-3) with 13.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
He transferred to Minnesota before last season, but he was not allowed to play while facing a felony battery charge for allegedly punching a woman in the face in Florida when he played for Miami-Dade Community College.
The case dragged on for a year, and he eventually entered a pretrial program in August to keep the process from continuing, though the agreement was not considered an admission of guilt. Mbakwe blamed the charge on mistaken identity.
Gophers players were unavailable to reporters on Tuesday, but Mbakwe took to Twitter on Tuesday to defend himself shortly before the school announced his playing status would not change.
''Boy oh boy this some crazy stuff. I never thought in a million years that me writing an ex of mine a fb msg would cause all this drama,'' Mbakwe tweeted.
He continued: ''Thanks to every1 who has shown their support to my family and me. I guess some ppl just want their 10 minutes of fame. ... I better be careful though don't want the cops popping up at my door for tweeting now but much love to my support group.''
Mbakwe's Twitter account was taken down soon after his comments.
This is the latest in what has been a long line of distractions for Smith and the Gophers the last two years. Just last week, guard Devoe Joseph decided to leave the school and transfer to Oregon. He was suspended earlier for academic issues among unspecified violations of team rules.
Prized recruit Royce White left the program last year and eventually transferred to Iowa State after pleading guilty to theft and disorderly conduct in an incident at the Mall of America. Mbakwe had to sit out the entire 2009-10 season, and starting point guard Al Nolen was suspended last January and ruled ineligible for the remainder of that season.