Maturi Shows Intelligent Restraint with Mbakwe Mishap

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Different situations call for individual attention and selective punishment.

When Trevor Mbakwe faced felony assault charges stemming from a party he attended while going to school at Miami-Dade Community College, a harsh punishment was dropped on him.

The general consensus was that University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi’s decision to hold Mbakwe out until the case was resolved was reasonable considering the severity of the accusations that Mbakwe struck a woman in the face while at the party.

Mbakwe ended up missing the entire 2009-10 season, mostly due to the accuser’s side attempting to depose every one of Mbakwe’s camp’s witnesses, and considered transferring because of his poor experience in his first season with the Gophers.

But when he was reinstated after he chose to enroll in a pre-trial program, which was offered as an alternative to waiting any longer for trial and carried 100 hours of community service among other things as a punishment, Mbakwe must’ve had a change of heart about Minnesota.

His return to competitive basketball has been a giant success and he has joined the elite ranks of college big men in the country, challenging Jared Sullinger and JaJuan Johnson for the title of the Big Ten’s best interior player.

jajuan johnson

So when news came down that Mbakwe was arrested last Sunday for violating a restraining order filed by his ex-girlfriend, you couldn’t blame fans minds for assuming the worst.

Perhaps another suspension, maybe even a release from the program were immediate thoughts for some Gopher faithful.

But when the dust settled and the truth came out about why Mbakwe was arrested, it left more than a few Minnesota supporters scratching their heads.

A facebook post in which Mbakwe contacted his ex-girlfriend with a message that included, according to Gopherhole.com; “I hope all is well with you,” was the cause of Mbakwe’s arrest.

The university later released the entire message Mbakwe sent.

“I know we haven’t talked in forever and trust me I’m not trying to start any drama with nobody in your life or anything,” wrote Mbakwe. “I just wanted to wish u the best with everything and I hope all has been well with you and your family. I am still disappointed how everything played out and I do wish that in the future we could be cool again. Idk how u r going to take this msg hopefully its not bad but I just wanted to wish u a happy new year and send out a congrats for graduating. I’ve been well I’m finally playin bball again in everything down in miami finally got taken care of thank god. Well idk if u will respond or not but best wishes for 2011.”

Mbakwe’s attempt through facebook to convey his well wishes were in violation of the “no contact order report” in which the restraining order was operating under.

Mbakwe apologized the next day and Joel Maturi called Mbakwe’s mistake a “lapse in judgement,” while Tubby Smith added that his actions were “misguided.”

Still, despite the arrest, Maturi and Smith stood united in not suspending Mbakwe, while his only punishment would be coming off the bench rather than starting for the Gophers.

“We have made the decision not to suspend him after looking into the matter further,” Smith said in the statement. “We believe this is the appropriate thing for Trevor and the program at this time. We view this as an educational opportunity for all of our players.”

Quite simply, Maturi and Smith should be applauded.

In a situation where others may have overreacted and not examined the situation as an individual instance, but rather looked at the body of work Mbakwe has amassed off the court, Smith and Maturi kept their cool.

While it was a poor choice Mbakwe made and a risk that was not worth taking, he very well could not have known that contacting her via facebook was in violation of the restraining order, and no one can argue that he had good intentions.

Smith may draw criticism for his statement because of the portion which says that the decision is “good for the program,” as some may claim Smith only made this decision to keep his star on the court.

While it is debatable that ninth men Chip Armelin or Maverick Ahanmisi may not have received the same treatment as Mbakwe, this situation was one that didn’t warrant much of a reaction from the powers that be.

Mbakwe has not started the two games the Gophers have played since his incident, but has played 31 and 35 minutes against Purdue and Iowa respectively and has been a huge part of those big wins and getting the Gophers back on track in the conference.

The Gophers continue to dominate in the paint, leading the Big Ten in blocked shots and rebounding, and Mbakwe has been instrumental to that, keeping up his solid play with 23 points, 22 rebounds, and five blocks since his arrest.

His mental toughness has really come to the forefront for a man that would never have had those two words in the same sentence before this year, and it is quite impressive that he has not let this bump in the road affect his play.

It’s big that Smith and Maturi didn’t let the situation affect his status on the court either, and with the events of the last week it looks like the Gophers may be starting to once again play at the level they are capable of.

-Mike Gallagher is co-host of The Backdoor Cut, a Minneapolis based sports talk show, and Gophers beat writer for The Sports Bank.

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Comments

  1. Peter Christian says

    I wouldn’t say suspending Mbakwe indefinitely last year was generally applauded. In fact, the decision of the school to suspend both Trevor and former Gopher Royce White when they were only accused seemed to be a thorn in the side of most Gophers fans’ sides.

    Sure, Maturi got it right this time, but that was more of a shock than the expected response.

    Either way, Maturi needs to go. Stat.

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