The strange saga of whether Trevor Mbakwe will ever play for the Minnesota Gophers this season appears to be finally coming to an end.
While some Gopher fans will be disappointed, many Gopher fans are going to be happy with the prospect that Mbakwe’s suspension has been lifted.
He is now eligible to don the maroon and gold for Minnesota this season.
Mbakwe had transferred to Minnesota with the expectation that he would be eligible to play for the Gophers last year. Before Mbakwe played his first game for Minnesota, he was accused of attacking a woman while enrolled at Miami-Dade Community College in April 2009 and charged with felony assault.
Mbakwe maintained his innocence and requested a trial.
Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi declared Mbakwe ineligible pending final resolution of the criminal case against Mbakwe.
Many observers expected that Mbakwe’s trial would likely be completed prior to the end of the basketball season and that Mbakwe, if acquitted, would finish the season with Minnesota.
Unfortunately, lady justice was not only blind in this matter, but she moved with all deliberate speed. Mbakwe’s case was formally continued from the trial court’s docket nearly a half dozen times.
On August 12, Mbakwe decided to accept the offer of the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office to enroll in a pretrial diversion program instead of proceeding to trial on the charges on August 23.
Mbakwe’s decision to enter the pretrial intervention program is not an admission of guilt.
The terms of the agreement between the prosecution and Mbakwe call for Mbakwe to serve 100 hours of community service and to donate $100 to a Florida shelter for abuse victims.
Upon completion of the program, the state of Florida will formally drop the criminal case against Mbakwe and there will be no criminal conviction on his record.
While some media outlets have suggested that resolution of this case was delayed as a result of Mbakwe, Mbakwe’s attorney stated that the delay in reaching settlement in this case was due to the victim being unwilling to accept the offer being proposed to Mbakwe.
Minnesota immediately issued a press release on Thursday evening, saying Mbakwe had been reinstated to the program and he will be eligible to start practicing with the Gophers when they resume on August 21.
“This process has been difficult and I am relieved it is finally being resolved,” Maturi said in a prepared statement. “It’s now time to move on and I am glad that he is going to have an opportunity to be a member of our basketball program with two years of eligibility remaining.”
Maturi said that because Coach Tubby Smith was out of town he was unavailable to issue a formal statement to the media concerning Mbakwe.
Maturi noted that he expected Coach Smith upon his return to the Twin Cities expects Coach Smith to meet with Mbakwe to discuss his future with the team.
Mbakwe, continuing his career, with Minnesota is not a foregone conclusion as he had meet with several schools during the summer to explore possible transfer opportunities. The apparent front runner appears to be Memphis as one of Mbakwe’s former coaches at Miami-Dade is now on the staff at Memphis.
Coach Smith however has been in contact with Mbakwe this summer and individuals close to the program believe that Coach Smith has smoothed any ruffled feathers that Mbakwe may have had as a result of being suspended last year.
Mbakwe is a fierce interior post player. He will provide the team with a dominating presence in the paint for Minnesota. The only person who can stop Mbakwe from being a double-double guy in the Big Ten will likely be Coach Smith with his liberal substitution policy.
If Mbakwe decides to continue his career with the Gophers next year, Minnesota with returning juniors Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and sophomore Rodney Williams has to have one of the best front lines if not the best front lines in the Big Ten.