Mbakwe will not play until pending case is resolved

The junior transfer will continue to practice with the team and attend classes prior to his trial in December.

Marco LaNave

Gophers menâÄôs basketball junior forward Trevor Mbakwe, who faces an aggravated-battery felony charge, will not play for the Gophers until his case is resolved, University of Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi announced Monday. Mbakwe is scheduled to go to trial in December for a charge surrounding an April incident in Miami-Dade County, Fla. Maturi said Mbakwe âÄî who transferred from Miami Dade College after winning conference player of the year honors last season âÄî will continue to attend classes and practice with the team, but will not dress for home games or travel for road games. Until the charges are dropped or there is a judgment from the trial scheduled for Dec. 14 (a pre-trial hearing is set for Dec. 2), Mbakwe will not be allowed to play for the Gophers, Maturi said, because of the negative attention it would draw to Mbakwe and the team. âÄúItâÄôs not at all a decision of innocence or guilt âÄî thatâÄôs not for me to decide,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúItâÄôs based on my belief that I donâÄôt think the focus of this basketball program, of this athletic program, needs to be put on Trevor, and I believe that every time we compete, if he were to be playing, it would be a major story.âÄù Minnesota is ranked No. 18 and No. 25 in the preseason coachesâÄô and AP polls, respectively, and will play an exhibition game against Minnesota-Duluth Thursday night at Williams Arena. The Gophers will open the regular season against Tennessee Tech on Nov. 13. Maturi said that if the charges are dropped or if Mbakwe is found not guilty, then Mbakwe and head coach Tubby Smith would decide whether Mbakwe would play. Maturi said Mbakwe will have two years of remaining eligibility if he misses the entire season. In September, Maturi decided that Mbakwe would be allowed to practice with the team. Maturi said he still believes he made the right decision two months ago, but that games would bring a level of adversity that he said wouldnâÄôt be fair for Mbakwe and the team to have to face every game. Maturi said that in September he was hopeful, but not expectant, that the case would be resolved before the season. He said he has not learned anything new since September that influenced his latest decision. In making the decision, he said he consulted the presidentâÄôs office, faculty representatives and the general counsel office. He said he was reminded by many people that Mbakwe remained innocent until proven guilty. In sharing his decision with Mbakwe and his mother, Maturi said he pointed out that many people, including former coaches, teammates and their parents who know Mbakwe, have attested to his character over the past several weeks. âÄúI can see what others have said [about] him, and I think IâÄôve seen him enough to certainly not feel any differently than all the positive things that have been expressed,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúIâÄôm not a judge or a jury, and if I were to be forced to say, do I think heâÄôs innocent or guilty, based on all the information I have, IâÄôd say heâÄôs innocent âĦ so [the decision] is not based on that, but that weighs in your mind: WeâÄôre taking away an opportunity for him to compete âÄî at least temporarily âÄî for something that most people believe he did not do,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúIt seems to be unfair, but heâÄôs been charged with a very serious crime, and the reality of it is, in our society, you donâÄôt get charged lightly. Somebody thinks heâÄôs guilty âĦ It is a reality and itâÄôs a challenge heâÄôs facing, weâÄôre facing.âÄù Mbakwe attended Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights and Saint BernardâÄôs School in St. Paul, graduating from the latter in 2007. He played one season at Marquette University before transferring to Miami Dade College, where he was the Florida Community College Activities Association Southern Conference Player of the Year last season. He signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Minnesota in November 2008. MbakweâÄôs attorney, Gregory Samms , was unavailable Monday for comment.