Friday, August 13, 2010

Mbakwe Agrees to Play for Gophers

There's been a fair bit of doom and gloom surrounding Gopher Nation of late, and we're not even talking about men's football. The honeymoon is apparently over for Tubby Smith, who has come in for some criticism for the disappointing performance of his 2009-2010 men's basketball team and particularly for a lackluster 2010 recruiting class.

So, finally, a breath of fresh air, which is Trevor Mbakwe's announcement that--no hard feelings--he will play for Tubby and the Gopher men.

As you know, Mbakwe had been suspended by Gopher AD Joel Maturi last year due to his legal problems in Florida, where he had played junior college ball. But said legal problems having been resolved, he had been cleared to join the Gophers for the 2010-2011 season. This was followed, however, by reports that Mbakwe himself was uncertain that he would accept the offer. But, yesterday, Mbakwe reportedly posted on his Facebook page that he would indeed play for Tubby this coming year.

Of course, he'll have 2 years of eligibility here at Minnesota. If he had decided to play somewhere else, it would represent yet another transfer, he would sit out another year, and have only one more year of eligibility left. So the decision to stay doesn't smack of an unqualified and enthusiastic endorsement of the Gopher program. Pragmatically, it was Mbakwe's only realistic choice.

There's been much hype surrounding Mbakwe's ability, and how much he'll contribute to the team. Former Gopher coach Jim Dutcher says he'll help a lot because he's an aggressive rebounder, and that's something the Gophers lack. Another source is quoted in the PiPress saying he was the "best player on the court" in last year's pre-season public scrimmage.

Well, it's been a long time since I've seen Trevor Mbakwe play basketball, so I am probably completely out to lunch here. I hope so. But I never saw Mbakwe as a player of obvious Big Ten caliber. I mean, sure he was a good high school player but as a senior he played a weak, Minnesota Class A schedule and his most recent experience is at a junior college in Florida. In one year of major college play, he contributed 1.5 points and 2 rebounds per game at Marquette.

In summary, the hype seems to me to be less in proportion to Mbakwe's ability than to the lack of anything else to get excited about in the Gopher men's program right now.

To wit:

• Unlike Mbakwe, Royce White bore some hard feelings (and had some options) after he, too, was suspended last year due to legal difficulties, and so he transferred last month to Iowa State.

• The newest Gophers, both walk-ons, like most of the 2010 recruiting class, underwhelm. I mean, no offense. But Chris Halvorsen has transferred in from Valpo, where as a freshman his numbers were 1 point and 0.7 boards in 4 minutes. And Halvorsen will be sitting out 2010-2011 after transferring, anyway. Then there's Eric Stark, a true freshman from Grand Rapids. Now, Stark will be a player some day, which is to say, a contributor off the bench. But even if he makes the active roster this year, he'll be lucky to match Halvorsen's numbers from Valpo.

• The Gophers' last scholarship offer went to guard Maverick Ahanmisi. In addition to Minnesota, he had scholarship offers from Chicago Loyola and California-Santa Barbara.

Still, there is this. The Gophers' starting line-up for 2010-2011 looks pretty solid: Colt Iverson, Ralph Sampson, Rod Williams, Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber. Mbakwe, if he's the player people say, off the bench. Al Nolen, if he can regain his academic eligibility, off the bench.

But, then, if you need more bench strength than that--and we don't know that Nolen will be eligible--you're talking true freshman Ahanmisi, Elliott Eliason, Austin Hollins, Oto Osenieks and Mo Walker. Not a top 100 recruit among 'em. Or a walk-on: Bryant Allen, Dominique Dawson or Stark. Royce White would look like a Tim Duncan among this bunch.

And, still, there's the fellow who says Mbakwe is the Gopher's best player, better than Hoffarber, better than Iverson, better than Sampson. And there's the newspaper columnist and Gopher cheerleader who says that Tubby's crew would finish 5th or 6th without Mbakwe, but can contend for the Big Ten title with him in the lineup. Hey, it's August, Who wants more Kool-Aid? Let's just say, We hope so, and leave it at that.

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