Every new season brings with it a host of questions about incoming players. For the Gophers, three players bring an unusual amount of uncertainty to the team. The playing status of Trevor Mbakwe and Bryant Allen will remain a mystery until at least December, while walk-on Dominique Dawson has a chance to be more than the typical floppy haired bench-warmer.
Word came down from on high (Joel Maturi) that Trevor Mbakwe will remain quasi-suspended from the team until his legal situation is resolved. This is obviously a huge blow to the team and of course to Mbakwe who was looking for a fresh start after a disappointing freshman year at Marquette.
Before I describe the impact on the team, it would be remiss of me to not comment on Maturi’s decision. Keeping Mbakwe on the team (though barred from playing in games) may have been the most beneficial decision for the team in the long run and for Mbakwe himself; it does not make this the right decision.
Mbakwe is accused of assault under semi-dubious circumstances and is awaiting trial. Maturi announced in September that Mbakwe could practice but not play, and that continues to be the policy. Maturi reasoned that keeping this arrangement is best for everyone involved. However, Mbakwe has not admitted to any violation of team rules. He has not been convicted of any crime. Maturi has not stated that Mbakwe is being punished for any wrong doing, and yet he is not allowed to play. The last time I checked, being accused of a crime is not the same as being convicted, and “punishment” for no wrong doing whatsoever flies in the face of a lot of what this country stands for. Maturi is not judge, jury, and executioner, and he should not have injected himself into Mbakwe’s playing status. If no team rules were violated, and the court has not ruled on a player’s guilt or lack there of, he or she should be allowed to play until the court decides or they broke a team rule, plain and simple. As Down with Goldy succinctly points out, not even the NCAA has any rules or regulations preventing a player from participating in athletics while facing criminal charges.
The Daily Gopher erroneously argues that Maturi’s decision sends a message that participating in athletics is a privilege and not a right. While this is obviously true (I’ve sadly never taken the court at Williams Arena as a Gopher), why should a privilege be revoked when a player stands accused but not convicted of a crime? What message does this send if Mbakwe is exonerated? Don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What did he do wrong? Is being in the vicinity of a crime and matching a generic suspect description enough to revoke that privilege. Yes, athletes should act like their great opportunity for a free education is a privilege, but in what way did Mbakwe act like it is not?
I’ll spare you the race and class conflict analysis with which my liberal arts degree has armed me, but this does not meet any standard of fairness.
Regardless of whether it is right or wrong, this decision is not the end of the world for the Gopher basketball team. Assuming Mbakwe can join the team sometime in December, the Gophers will have an impact newcomer just in time for the Big Ten season who will be familiar with his teammates and ready to contribute right away. Royce White and Paul Carter will get more playing time and will be able to develop more when the games are less meaningful and the competition is a lower quality. If Mbakwe were allowed to play and then left the team, there would be a gaping whole to fill. Yes, the Gophers are deep, but that depth quickly gets shallow if Royce White isn’t ready for prime-time and Carter fails to put his many tools to good use.
If all goes as planned, the Mbakwe situation will be resolved one way or another by the time the Big Ten season begins, and the Gophers can move on with or without their prized junior-college transfer.
The Gophers haven’t had a multi-sport basketball player of the caliber of Bryan Allen since Dave Winfield. Allen, who you may have seen recently returning punts and getting his face smashed in by dirty California Golden Bears special teams players, may have more pro potential in basketball than in football. He was the all time leading scorer in Missouri high school basketball history with a game and a shot that are almost as sweet has his hair. Vince Grier, you have been usurped.
Combine his ample basketball skills with his track star speed, fearlessness and dare I say insanity of returning punts, and Allen has all the makings of an impact player if and when he joins the team. The if and the when are both huge questions though. Allen has maintained his intent to play basketball, and it reportedly helped contribute to his decision to attend the University of Minnesota, but I can’t help but fear that things may change once football season is over. The kid may just need a break, and who can blame him? If he does play, it most certainly won’t be until the football season is over, and the date the season will end is far from decided. If the football team makes a bowl-game, he will arrive barely in time for the Big Ten season.
There is also a question of how much he can contribute. With his full attention towards football and without an opportunity to practice with the team, it may be unrealistic to expect that he is game ready from day one with the basketball team. Not many freshman point guards excel in big time college basketball, and those that do don’t have to contend with multiple sports as well as the responsibility of being a full time college student. If he joins the team, don’t expect more than spot minutes initially. If he develops his game and learns the system, he could see up to 10 minutes per game by the end of the conference season. If the football team and basketball team continue to head in opposite directions, don’t be shocked if Allen focuses more on basketball in the upcoming seasons.
I’ll be the first to admit that I may be getting a bit ahead of myself, but Dominique Dawson is not the average walk-on. You can see this just by looking at him. He doesn’t look like he is still stuck in eighth grade. He doesn’t look like he shouldn’t have even been on his high school team. He isn’t a little pudgy or disconcertingly skinny. He looks like a player.
Listed at 6’7” and 240 pounds, Dawson is by far the most athletic walk-on the Gophers have had in years. While playing for a dreadful Southwest High School team, he averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds per game. More importantly, he doesn’t play like a walk-on. Based only on the scrimmage during Tubby’s Tip-off (I told you I was getting ahead of myself) he didn’t stand out, good or bad. No one with a scholarship is in danger of losing playing time, at least not yet. He just looked like an ordinary Division I player out there with his team mates. He kept up, fought hard, and never looked like the only walk-on on the court. Four years with one of the best coaches in the country will change that. It is a bold prediction, and I am going way out on a limb, but by the time Dawson finishes his Gopher career, he will be an important part of the team.