Apologetic Mbakwe will not start Thursday’s game vs. Purdue

Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe was arrested Monday, but will not be suspended.

Josh Katzenstein

Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe will begin ThursdayâÄôs game against No. 8 Purdue on the bench as part of his punishment for being arrested Monday after violating a restraining order.

Mbakwe sent his ex-girlfriend a Facebook message on Monday that, although sincere, violated a âÄúno contactâÄù order the woman filed in 2009. He was detained Monday evening and released on $500 bail hours later.

âÄúIâÄôd like to apologize to my teammates, my family and all of Gopher nation for my poor judgment,âÄù Mbakwe said after practice Tuesday. âÄúUnfortunately everything played out the way it happened. It was just me trying to reach out and be generous, but it backfired on me.âÄù

Coach Tubby Smith said that he and Athletics Director Joel Maturi evaluated the situation and decided not to suspend Mbakwe, who missed all of last season with a lingering felony assault charge in Miami while attending Miami Dade College. Mbakwe never admitted guilt, but agreed to perform 100 hours of community service, which he recently completed.

âÄúI think heâÄôs learned a serious lessonâĦ that when you donâÄôt obey the rules or a court order, those are the consequences,âÄù Smith said about MbakweâÄôs latest offense. âÄúHeâÄôs not going to start, but there are other things that we are going to do internally that heâÄôs going to have to do so he can understand that thatâÄôs not going to be tolerated, and itâÄôs not going to happen again.âÄù

Colton Iverson will start on Thursday for Mbakwe, who has started the last 15 games for the Gophers (12-4, 1-3 Big Ten). Mbakwe collected a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) after coming off the bench against Wofford in the season opener. Smith did not say how much he plans to play Mbakwe, who leads the Big Ten in rebounding (10.4 per game) and field goal percentage (59.7 percent). The juniorâÄôs 13.4 points per game also tie Blake Hoffarber for the team lead.

This is just the latest in a series of off-court drama for the Gophers during the last two seasons. In addition to MbakweâÄôs legal issues, former Gophers freshman Royce White left the program shortly after pleading guilty to theft and disorderly conduct in an incident at the Mall of America. White did not play last season and is currently enrolled at Iowa State.

Point guard Al Nolen, now a senior captain, was suspended for the final 17 games of the 2009-10 season for academic ineligibility. Smith also suspended Devoe Joseph for the first six games of this season, citing academic issues. Joseph recently announced plans to transfer to Oregon after averaging 11.3 points in eight games this year for the Gophers.

âÄúUnfortunately for us weâÄôve dealt with a lot of this throughout the last couple years,âÄù Mbakwe said. âÄúLast year they dealt with all the stuff with me [and] Royce and all the suspensions and stuff going on. They made a good effort. They made it to the Big Ten championship game, so I donâÄôt think this situation is going to be any different.âÄù

Last seasonâÄôs Big Ten tournament run came without Nolen and was largely led by Joseph, a sophomore at the time. The Gophers managed to put last seasonâÄôs issues behind them in order to make the NCAA tournament, and they will need to do the same as they prepare to host Purdue and avoid a 1-4 start in the Big Ten.

âÄúThings happen and people make mistakes. He meant well,âÄù Noeln said of Mbakwe. âÄúWeâÄôve been through adversity before, but weâÄôve just got to fight through it and keep moving on.âÄù

As for Mbakwe, heâÄôs trying to become a âÄúbetter personâÄù through all the off-court issues and plans to bring the same amount of energy he has all season when he comes off the bench on Thursday.

âÄúIâÄôve been through a lot of challenges throughout my career,âÄù said Mbakwe, who also played one season at Marquette. âÄúI think theyâÄôve made me a better person. ItâÄôs helped me mature more on the court, too. I just think that these are situations that you learn from.

âÄúYou just have to move on and be the best person you can be.âÄù