Mbakwe will come off the bench to start season

Andrew Krammer

Minnesota men's basketball star Trevor Mbakwe said he will come off the bench to start the season, according to CBS Sports.

The sixth-year power forward averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Dayton on Nov. 27. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound big man said he's okay with not starting right away.

"I'm just happy to be playing basketball again," Mbakwe said, according to CBS Sports. "As long as we're winning and I'm able to come back and play to the level I was accustomed to before the injury, I don't care if I'm starting or coming off the bench. It doesn't matter to me." 

He was cleared by doctors last month and will participate in Friday night's Gopher All-Star/Midnight Madness scrimmage at Williams Arena. 

Sophomore Elliott Eliason is expected to start at center when Minnesota begins its season at the Barn against American University on Nov. 9.

Mbakwe's return creates half the hype surrounding the Gophers and coach Tubby Smith's sixth year at Minnesota. His absence gave way to a 6-12 Big Ten record last season and no NCAA Tournament bid for the second consecutive year. 

But the extra space on the court helped then-freshman point guard Andre Hollins learn, and it allowed forward Rodney Williams to flourish. Both were key factors in the team's victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament and its run to the National Invitational Tournament championship game. 

As the Gophers return their top five scorers from a year ago, ESPN.com's Andy Katz has Minnesota at No. 25 in his preseason rankings.