AUSTIN, TEXAS – Trevor Mbakwe walked out of the glare and looked back at an everyday sight that is no longer guaranteed in his future.
The sixth-year senior had answered many questions at many podiums over many years. Queries about great wins and dispiriting losses. About major successes and heartbreaking failures. About injuries and comebacks, about on-court accomplishments and off-court mishaps.
And when he walked away after the Gophers’ 78-64 loss to Florida on Sunday evening, he knew it was the last time in his collegiate career he would do so.
“I was speechless,” Mbakwe said. “I didn’t really know what to say. Even now, just thinking as far as next year, just knowing that not only is the season over, but my career at the University of Minnesota, too. It’s going to be weird not having practice every day and not getting yelled at by Coach [Tubby] Smith — but now it’s time for the next journey for myself.”
Mbakwe is used to tough questions and reporters asking how his team can pull things together. But it’s not his team anymore.
“Once we stop,” Mbakwe started as he attempted to answer a question about the Gophers’ persistent flaws. He hesitated and started the sentence again. “Once they stop — next year, if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot and play consistently, they’ll be a pretty good team.”
Both he and senior Rodney Williams are hoping to hear their names called at the NBA draft this June, but after a plethora of interruptions for Mbakwe and a track record of inconsistency for Williams, nothing is for certain.
“You never really know,” Williams said. “It’s not up to me, it’s up to those guys. … I just hope they give me a chance to go out there and show my talent.”
• Mbakwe on the Gophers’ slow start: “It’s unfortunate that we put ourselves in that position and we get down 15, 17 points to start the game and we find ourselves trying to crawl back into a lead. ... We knew we still had some left in the tank, but unfortunately we couldn’t stop them from shooting the ball.”
• Florida coach Billy Donovan has developed a relationship with Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague, who hired both Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart — former assistants under Donovan at Florida — as head coaches at Teague’s previous school, VCU. Donovan described the phone call in which Teague asked about Grant, now the head coach at Alabama. “I told Norwood, I said, ‘I’m just telling you right now, Norwood, it will be the biggest coup of VCU basketball that you could possibly get of hiring anybody that you could hire out there nationally that would go to VCU.’ And then Anthony obviously went down there and did a great job.”