Gophers basketball star Trevor Mbakwe still isn’t sure whether he will return to the team next year — or if he’ll 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.
“We’re still just gathering the facts — there’s a lot of stuff that we’re going to have to put together and paperwork that we’re going to have to file for the NCAA,” Mbakwe said about applying for a potential sixth year.
“It’s going to be a tough call, but it’s something that I’m interested in,” 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.
“It’s a lifetime goal of mine,” Mbakwe said. “I’d never turn down making money doing something I love.”
Yet Mbakwe has two compelling reasons not to declare: his knee and his age.
“I don’t think [age] will play as much of a factor as some people might think,” said Mbakwe, who turned 23 on Tuesday. “As long as I’m able to show that my knee is better than it was before — I think that’s going to be the biggest question for scouts.”
Mbakwe had successful surgery Dec. 30 to repair the tear and has been rehabilitating his knee for the last month.
He said he probably won’t be ready to play 5-on-5 basketball until June — 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 — or the control of the institution for which he or she plays.
That isn’t 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 — 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 — Ralph Sampson III — this season.
“It definitely wouldn’t hurt to come back another year and play with these guys, especially with how the season’s going,” Mbakwe said.
The Gophers have won their last three games and are 3-4 in conference. They are 9-4 since Mbakwe’s injury.
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