Gophers men's basketball forward Trevor Mbakwe has been granted a sixth year by the NCAA, team officials confirmed Friday.
A fifth-year senior, Mbakwe has missed most of the 2011-12 season after tearing his right ACL in a Nov. 27 game.
“I was kind of expecting it,” Mbakwe said Saturday of the sixth year. “But it was great news for me. It makes my life a lot easier not having to rush back and get ready for the [NBA] draft. … It gives me some nice options.”
The 6-foot-8 Mbakwe, whose name has been mentioned in NBA draft discussions, said Saturday that he is leaning toward returning to the Gophers next season but has not made a decision.
“The situation is kind of complicated,” Mbakwe said. “We’ll know more after the season. There’s a lot more that needs to be played out.”
Per a new NCAA rule, Mbakwe has until April 10 to indicate whether he will declare for the draft. However, because the NBA does not recognize this rule, he could announce he is not declaring by April 10 and still declare by April 29 without consequence.
Mbakwe will receive a medical hardship waiver — commonly known as a medical redshirt — for his 2011-12 season. He also received a redshirt for his 2009-10 season, which athletics director Joel Maturi forced him to sit out amid pending aggravated battery charges, which were later dropped.
Mbakwe was automatically eligible for a medical hardship waiver because he played in fewer than 30 percent of the Gophers’ games in 2011-12, among other criteria.
For Mbakwe to receive a sixth year, the NCAA needed to award him a waiver to the “Five-Year Rule” — a rule that says student-athletes have five seasons in which to complete four seasons of eligibility. Waivers are typically awarded when an athlete sits out one or more seasons because of circumstances beyond his or her control or the control of the institution, which Mbakwe’s 2009-10 redshirt season was not.
In his freshman season at Marquette, Mbakwe missed 23 games with a left knee sprain before returning to play the final 11 games — enough to make him ineligible for a medical hardship waiver.
In five years of college, Mbakwe has played just 49 games of Division I basketball.
“The NCAA made the right decision,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said in a release Friday. “Trevor has done everything we have asked of him for three years now, and he deserves the right to compete for a sixth season.”
Mbakwe led the Gophers in scoring and rebounding each of the last two seasons.
If he returns, Minnesota will have 14 scholarship players for 2012-13, one more than the maximum number allowed by the NCAA. If that number holds when the season rolls around, the team would likely need to cut a scholarship player.
However, Smith said Saturday that the Gophers are hoping the NCAA can help the team offer an extra scholarship for Mbakwe.
Mbakwe’s decision on whether to return to Minnesota or hire an agent and file for the NBA draft depends partly on how NBA scouts value him coming off major knee surgery.
Before the 2011-12 season, draft experts considered Mbakwe a mid-to-late first-round pick in the 2012 draft. Now, some draft projection sites have him not being taken at all.
“I think [scouts] know what kind of player I am from the success I’ve had in the past, so I think the biggest question is definitely going to be my knee,” Mbakwe said.
Even if he is drafted in the second round, Mbakwe will have to prove his value during the NBA’s summer league to earn a guaranteed contract. Under the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, second-round draft choices’ contracts are not guaranteed.
Recovery times from ACL tears vary but usually last six to nine months. Mbakwe had a successful surgery in December and has said he plans to begin playing basketball with contact in June.
Once Mbakwe hires an agent, which he would likely do to declare for the NBA draft, he forfeits his college eligibility.