Minnesota basketball recruit Trevor Mbakwe, who goes to trial in December to face a felony battery charge, will be allowed to practice with the team prior to the start of the season, said athletic director Joel Maturi, who made the ruling Tuesday.
Maturi, however, said Mbakwe has not been cleared to play for the team during the upcoming season. He said he’ll make that decision prior to the team’s Nov. 13 opener against Tennessee Tech. Maturi said he’s comfortable with Mbakwe participating in preseason practices, which began Tuesday.
“I have to decide the positives and negatives of this," Maturi said. "Here’s a young man who claims he’s innocent. And I don’t know if he is or not. I don’t believe there’s any harm to anybody to allow him to practice. He is a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota. We recruited him. He’s been accepted by admissions. He’s part of the student body. And so, in some ways, I don’t think it was a very difficult decision to be able to make at all.”
Maturi’s ruling comes more than four months after Mbakwe was charged with felony battery, stemming from an incident in Miami, where the former St. Bernard’s and Henry Sibley standout played at Miami Dade community college last season.
A Miami woman has accused Mbakwe of punching her in the face two times after attempting to pull her pants down April 3. The victim initially identified Mbakwe via the team’s online roster and told police she was “100 percent” sure that Mbakwe was her assailant.
Mbakwe, however, maintains his innocence and reportedly has four witnesses who can place him at home during the time the assault occurred. His trial is scheduled for Dec. 14, but his lawyer, Gregory Simms, told the Star Tribune in August that he intends to extend the trial so that Mbakwe doesn’t go to court during the season.