Could an awkward fall on press row have been the best thing to happen Trevor Mbakwe and Golden Gophers basketball? Mbakwe’s biggest strength was always the recklessness and fearlessness with which he played. He had no problem diving for a loose ball, crashing into the lane for a rebound, chase a point guard around the perimeter, or trying to dunk on an entire team. The grand irony of his nearly career-ending injury was that it came on the most innocuous of plays, without even making contact with another player.
Surgically, his knee is fine. Psychologically, since the knee injury, Mbakwe hasn’t been. He’s played tentatively, maybe even fearfully, and who can really blame him?
Late in the second half of Minnesota’s win, Minnesota’s super-senior was run over while chasing a loose ball, lost his balance, and went careening into note pads, lap tops, and mercifully not any people. It was a concerning moment, considering Mbakwe’s injury history, and for just a moment, those critical of the much maligned raised floor might have been right. But he got up, and seemed surprised that he was absolutely fine. A minute or two later he lost his balance while chasing a loose ball and stumbled off the court into the student section. It was the sort of stumble that put weight on the surgically repaired knee at an awkward angle. Again, it seemed like Mbakwe thought he should be hurt, but he was fine again.
Trevor Mbakwe’s official return to college basketball was statistically modest, with four points, three rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. However, the most important statistic is the two falls, the two times he learned to trust his surgeon, and the two times he learned to trust himself. By returning to college basketball for sixth season, Trevor Mbakwe has shown he can get back up after getting knocked down, and that getting knocked down is the best way to get back up.
And his two last points of the night? They came on an alley-oop on pass he had no business catching. His explosiveness is back, and his mind is too.