Mbakwe says he’s unsure about returning to Gophers

The fifth-year senior said he is also considering declaring for the NBA Draft.

Charlie Armitz

Gophers basketball star Trevor Mbakwe still isnâÄôt sure whether he will return to the team next year âÄî or if heâÄôll be allowed to do so.

Mbakwe spoke to the media for 10 minutes Tuesday for the first time since suffering a season-ending right ACL tear Nov. 27.

âÄúWeâÄôre still just gathering the facts âÄî thereâÄôs a lot of stuff that weâÄôre going to have to put together and paperwork that weâÄôre going to have to file for the NCAA,âÄù Mbakwe said about applying for a potential sixth year.

âÄúItâÄôs going to be a tough call, but itâÄôs something that IâÄôm interested in,âÄù he said.

The fifth-year senior said he is also considering declaring for the NBA Draft, which he would have to do by April in order to be eligible.

âÄúItâÄôs a lifetime goal of mine,âÄù Mbakwe said. âÄúIâÄôd never turn down making money doing something I love.âÄù

Yet Mbakwe has two compelling reasons not to declare: his knee and his age.

âÄúI donâÄôt think [age] will play as much of a factor as some people might think,âÄù said Mbakwe, who turned 23 on Tuesday. âÄúAs long as IâÄôm able to show that my knee is better than it was before âÄî I think thatâÄôs going to be the biggest question for scouts.âÄù

Mbakwe had successful surgery Dec. 30 to repair the tear and has been rehabilitating his knee for the last month.

He said he probably wonâÄôt be ready to play 5-on-5 basketball until June âÄî meaning that his only chance to play in front of NBA scouts would be to stay another year at Minnesota.

That option may not be made available to him, however, if the NCAA decides not to grant him a Five-Year Rule waiver.

That waiver is typically granted when a student-athlete has missed two seasons because of circumstances beyond his or her control âÄî or the control of the institution for which he or she plays.

That isnâÄôt the case with Mbakwe, who sat out the entire 2009-10 season when University athletics director Joel Maturi announced Mbakwe would not play until his aggravated-battery felony charge was resolved.

The charges were dropped and Mbakwe played his junior season in 2010-11.

He played seven games in 2011-12 before tearing his ACL âÄî few enough to make him eligible for a medical hardship waiver.

If he were to return in 2012-13, he would add to a Gophers team that graduates just one player âÄî Ralph Sampson III âÄî this season.

âÄúIt definitely wouldnâÄôt hurt to come back another year and play with these guys, especially with how the seasonâÄôs going,âÄù Mbakwe said.

The Gophers have won their last three games and are 3-4 in conference. They are 9-4 since MbakweâÄôs injury.