Gophers lose Trevor Mbakwe for season

Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe, last season's rebounding leader in the Big Ten, will miss the rest of the 2011-12 season with a torn ACL, the school confirmed Monday.

Mbakwe suffered the injury in the second half of Minnesota's 86-70 loss to Dayton in the Old Spice Classic title game in Orlando on Sunday. The senior forward landed awkwardly on a routine defensive play and fell to the floor while grabbing his right knee.

He was emotional on the bench, where he sat briefly with his teammates before going back to the locker room on crutches.

Through the school's statement, Mbakwe thanked well-wishers for their support. He was averaging 14.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game prior to the injury. Surgery will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

"My family and I would like to thank everyone for their support," he said.

This isn't the first time that Mbakwe has been sidelined. As a freshman at Marquette in 2007-08, he missed the majority of the year with a knee injury. He was suspended during the 2009-10 season, his first with the Gophers, while he awaited trial for a felony assault charge.

He eventually entered a pretrial intervention program -- he did not plead guilty -- and returned to the floor last season. He led the Big Ten in rebounding and earned second-team all-conference honors during the 2010-11 campaign.

In-season drama has become the norm for Tubby Smith's program. In his third season with the Gophers, star recruit Royce White transferred to Iowa State before he ever competed for the Gophers.

Al Nolen, his starting point guard the last two seasons, missed most of the 2009-10 campaign due to academic issues and the bulk of last year with a foot injury. And standout combo guard Devoe Joseph transferred to Oregon in January.

But the loss of Mbakwe is the program's biggest blow under Smith. The St. Paul native had cracked the first round on multiple NBA draft boards and figured to earn all-conference recognition and possibly more this year. Smith said he's confident Mbakwe will bounce back.

"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 willpower and has been through it before and can recover again," Smith said through the school's statement. "We are certainly going to miss him. He's having a great year. He's our leader. He's been a big emotional leader for us.

"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. ... He knows that we're here for him, and we will do whatever we can do to help him through this process."

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN.