Minnesota’s worst fears were realized Monday regarding the health of senior forward Trevor Mbakwe.
University of Minnesota Medical Director Dr. Brad Nelson confirmed that Mbakwe tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday, meaning his time in a Gophers jersey this season is over.
“My family and I would like to thank everyone for their support,” Mbakwe said in a statement released by the university.
Mbakwe’s injury came with 17 minutes to go in the second half of the Old Spice Classic championship against Dayton in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. His knee buckled as he manuevered for rebounding position and had to be carried off the court.
While ACL tears are often attritibuted as a chronic issue with female basketball players, Mbakwe’s season-ending injury should serve a reminder to men’s basketball fans that males have some susceptibility too.
“He had a knee surgery before (at Marquette) and for it to happen a second time, you hurt for him, but you know he’s a guy that has the will power and has been through it before and can recover again,” said Gophers head coach Tubby Smith in the statement.
Mbakwe’s power of will has been tested virtually throughout his college career. He was suspended for the entire 2009-10 season, stemming from an assault charge while he was attending Miami-Dade College in Florida. Another case is pending after he contacted a former girlfriend on Facebook in January, allegedly violating a restraining order by doing so.
“The team has watched what he’s had to deal with and overcome. Our players look up to Trevor, not just because of his talent, but because of his work ethic, and the type of person he’s been,” Smith said.
Overcoming Mbakwe’s absence is a major obstacle for a program haunted by a season-ending injury to Al Nolen last year. Coupled with the departure of Devoe Joseph, the Gophers wasted an 11-1 start by losing 10 of its last 11 games and failing to qualify in any post-season tournament.
The 6-foot-8 St. Paul native led the Gophers (6-1) in points and rebounds last season, averaging a double-double with 13.9 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game. He led in both categories through seven games this year with 14.0 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game. The Big Ten Conference honored Mbakwe by naming him a Preseason All-Big Ten First Team selection.
Further complicating matters was Mbakwe’s second-place position in the Big Ten for rebounds. Possible replacements at the power forward slot are Andre Ingram and Ralph Sampson, III.
Ingram, a graduate from Minnesota Transitions, has only played 7.6 minutes per game this season. Sampson has 5.8 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game, but is recovering from an ankle injury.
In either case, it appears Mbakwe’s college eligibility will expire after this season. If true, Gophers fans may again wonder what might have been if the team is unable to solve their hole at power forward.