Gophers men's basketball forward Trevor Mbakwe has been granted a sixth year by the NCAA, team officials confirmed Friday.
Mbakwe thanked his supporters via Twitter on Friday, writing, "I don't know what will happens yet but I'm very blessed to be in this position now. Gophernation is the best and I'm just speechless right now lol."
Mbakwe, whose name has been mentioned in NBA draft discussions, has not confirmed that he will return for the 2012-13 season. He said Saturday that he is leaning toward returning.
He sat out most of his 2011-12 senior season after tearing his ACL during a Nov. 27 game. He had already received a redshirt for his 2009-10 season, which he sat out because of legal issues.
According to NCAA rules, Mbakwe needed to receive a waiver to the "Five-Year Rule" — a rule that says student-athletes have five seasons in which to complete four seasons of eligibility — to play a sixth season in 2012-13. Exceptions are typically awarded when one or more of an athlete's seasons are deemed beyond the control of the athlete or the institution — which Mbakwe's 2009-10 redshirt season was not.
Mbakwe was automatically eligible for a medical hardship waiver (commonly known as a medical redshirt) because he played in fewer than 30 percent of the Gophers' games in 2011-12, among other criteria.
“The NCAA made the right decision,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said in a release. “Trevor has done everything we have asked of him for three years now and he deserves the right to compete for a sixth season.”
Mbakwe led the Gophers in scoring and rebounding each of the last two seasons.
If Mbakwe returns, Minnesota will have 14 scholarship players for 2012-13, one more than the maximum number allowed by the NCAA. If that number holds when the season rolls around, the team would likely need to remove one of those 14 scholarships.
However, Smith said Saturday that the Gophers are hoping the NCAA can also help the team with an extra scholarship for Mbakwe.