When the news came out that Trevor Mbakwe was cleared to play, every Gopher fan was absolutely elated, including this girl. When you look at the Gopher team without Mbakwe, you probably have an NIT team. When you look at the Gopher team with Mbakwe, you probably have an NCAA tournament team. Plus, we are beyond thin at the power forward position, making his return even more crucial. On a personal note, I couldn’t be more excited to have Trevor back. I think he handled himself with class and dignity during this past year. He has matured a great deal, is a responsible father, student, and player – and we are so fortunate to have him playing on the court, and representing the University of Minnesota.
As important as it is for this Gopher squad to have Trevor back, the player that came back from academic ineligibility that is rarely talked about is Al Nolen. Getting Al Nolen back and in academic good standing is essential for this Gopher squad. www.gopherhole.com/modules.php
For some reason, I think he gets a bad rap on the court. From my years as a Gopher fan, I’ve always noticed the point guards have not been the most loved players on the team, and receive the most ridicule. From Adam Boone to Limar Wilson, Kevin Burleson, Aaron Robinson (aside from his senior year) Rico Tucker, etc . Basically, anyone that’s played since Eric Harris. I’m not sure why, but Minnesotans do not love their point guards. Well, I love the way Al Nolen plays.
When Nolen first committed to the U, I admit, I was less than enthused. I had heard good and bad things, and mainly the fact that he struggled academically. Those reservations cleared up within a handful of games starting at the point guard position, I could not believe how he ran the offense, how poised he was, what a fantastic defender he was, and most importantly, I didn’t cringe with him bringing the ball up the court. Please don’t watch this if you have a weak stomach, but if you’re a Gopher fan, you know what I mean by cringing if I mention Kevin Burleson and the Illinois Game:
I know what you’re all thinking, Al Nolen doesn’t score. That’s when it’s important to remember; he’s a point guard, not a shooting guard. When people talk about Al Nolen or Devoe Joseph starting, it shouldn’t be a choice of one or the other. I think Joseph did a great job of stepping up last year, and had a breakout season, but Nolen running the point gives Jospeh a better chance to score, as he said in a recent interview:
I love playing with Al because he sets everyone up and finds you open. He is good at kicking out to me and I want to do that for him as well. He can blow buy guys. Together we’ll work together real well.
Obviously, it would be great if you had a PG that put up double digits every game, but Nolen puts up some other impressive numbers. During his sophomore year, he was ranked #6 in the Big 10 in assists averaging 4.33 a game, #2 in steals at 1.94/game, and was #1 in the entire conference for assist-turnover ratio. I don’t know about you, but I want a guy running my offense that’s ranked #1 in the Big 10 in a statistic like this. When you also add to that 3.1 rebounds and 6.7 points a game, that is a very complete stat line. I’m not the only one that sees how valuable Nolen is to this Gopher team; Seth Davis gave him national props last season:
Quite honestly, the only thing Al Nolen has really done to upset me, is become academically ineligible. I know he said that he had some family issues, and I do not doubt that at all. I do not look at Al Nolen as a dumb kid, but with all the advantages given to athletes (tutors, study tables, the best class times and profs, academic advisors, etc.) I just think he is far too bright to let his grades lapse so bad that he was out for the entire Big 10 season.
Nolen did assure me that he will have no issues with his grades and that he’s moved on from those troubles. As a Gopher fan, I move on too; no one is perfect – certainly not me. I just look forward to him contributing to the Gophers like he did his sophomore year. If he does, I see no reason why we can’t be an NCAA tournament team, and at least win a game or two in the dance given the talent that we have.