Gophers to wait on Mbakwe clearance

MINNEAPOLIS -- Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe, one of Minnesota's touted new recruits, will not be allowed to play for the Gophers (No. 25 AP, No. 18 ESPN/USA Today) until his pending court case on a felony aggravated battery charge is cleared up.

Athletics director Joel Maturi announced Monday his decision on Mbakwe, who faces a December trial for an alleged attack on a woman in Miami in April. His attorney, Gregory Samms, told the Star Tribune newspaper this summer that his client was mistakenly identified. Samms didn't return messages Monday left by The Associated Press.

Mbakwe can attend classes, practice and participate in team functions, but Maturi said he can't play until the legal matter "has been resolved in a satisfactory manner." Mbakwe also can't suit up for home games or travel with the team.

Maturi said he has spent the past several weeks speaking "to as many people as he possibly could" before making what he called a difficult decision about Mbakwe, who transferred to Minnesota for this season.

"There's not a person who knows him who didn't respond to me telling me what great character he has. Everybody said what a wonderful young man he is, not that we would feel any differently," Maturi said. "The decision is not at all based on whether I feel he is innocent or guilty. It's an educational decision that I feel will allow Trevor to learn from."

If the situation drags out and causes Mbakwe to miss several games, he could take a redshirt season and still have two years of eligibility left. Neither coach Tubby Smith nor Mbakwe were available for comment Monday.

"I think he's very understanding of the situation," Maturi said of Smith. "He cares for Trevor. He recruited Trevor."

Mbakwe appeared in 11 games during an injury-plagued freshman season at Marquette after playing for two Twin Cities area high schools -- Henry Sibley in Mendota Heights and St. Bernard's in St. Paul. He transferred to a junior college in Miami last year before deciding to return to Minnesota.

If he's allowed to play, Mbakwe will give the Gophers some needed bulk at the power forward position. He's part of a nationally lauded recruiting class that includes freshmen Royce White, Rodney Williams and Justin Cobbs.