Mbakwe says he’ll return for sixth season

The NCAA granted Mbakwe a sixth season in late March.

Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe rises for a dunk against Bemidji State Nov. 2 at Williams Arena. Mbakwe announced Monday he will return to the team for the 2012-13 season.

Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe rises for a dunk against Bemidji State Nov. 2 at Williams Arena. Mbakwe announced Monday he will return to the team for the 2012-13 season.

Charlie Armitz

Men’s basketball star Trevor Mbakwe will return to the Gophers for the 2012-13 season, the team confirmed Monday.

“I have decided to remain at the University of Minnesota and am looking forward to the upcoming season,” Mbakwe said in a news release. “I think it is beneficial for many reasons. It gives me the opportunity to play another year of college basketball and hopefully contribute to a team that showed it can be dangerous.”

Minutes before the release, Mbakwe announced his return on YouTube.

The 6-foot-8-inch senior was granted a sixth year by the NCAA in late March, making him eligible to compete next season if he chose to.

He missed most of this season after tearing his ACL in a Nov. 27 game. The Gophers struggled without him, finishing 6-12 in conference play and losing in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.

Minnesota showed some promise, however, when it won four games in the National Invitation Tournament before losing to Stanford in the championship.

“We are excited that Trevor has made the decision to return and play a sixth season,” head coach Tubby Smith said in the release. “He has obviously proven to be a dominant player in this league, and I have no doubt that he will return to the form that made him that type of player.”

Mbakwe averaged 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds in seven games this season. He averaged 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds last season when he played all 31 games for the Gophers.

He was a Preseason All-Big Ten First Team selection this season, and many analysts have already projected success for the Mbakwe-led Gophers in 2012.

ESPN’s Andy Katz placed the Gophers 24th last week in his early list of the nation’s top 25 teams for next season. He also said Minnesota should contend for a top-four finish in the Big Ten.

The Gophers graduated just one player from the team this season in Ralph Sampson III. They return all five starters from their NIT run as well as forward/center Mo Walker, who redshirted the 2011-12 season after undergoing serious knee surgery.

Mbakwe posted on Twitter last Sunday, “Unfinished Business. I can’t go out like this,” but he did not make an official announcement as to whether he would return or declare for the NBA draft.

He can still declare for the draft by the NBA’s April 29 deadline, although his announcement Monday makes that unlikely.

Mbakwe’s draft stock fell drastically after his ACL tear — before the injury, he was projected to be a mid-first round pick in a deep 2012 draft; now, many draft sites have him going undrafted.

His announcement Monday came a week after the Gophers confirmed sophomore guard Chip Armelin had been released from his scholarship. Prior to Armelin’s release, the team had no scholarships available for next season.

Mbakwe graduated in December and is enrolled in graduate-level courses this semester. Mbakwe said in the release that his return in 2012-13 will provide him an opportunity to earn his master’s degree.

“That means a ton to me,” he said. “Not many athletes have that chance to get multiple degrees during their stay, and unfortunately it took an injury for me to have this opportunity. But I am going to take full advantage of it.”