Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe is not going to jail.
Miami-Dade judge Jose Fernandez on Friday handed down an additional two years of probation and several other stipulations as punishment for parole violation stemming from a July DUI in Minnesota, but he did not send Mbakwe to jail, which could have had major implications on his status with the Gophers.
The judge did, however, offer this warning:
"You're not a cat; you don't have nine lives. You're going to do something and it's going to be the end of any chances you have. This may be it; this may be your last chance," Fernandez told Mbakwe at the hearing.
Mbakwe said he spoke with coach Tubby Smith Friday morning and that the coaches are supporting him. He said he wants to move on. Mbakwe's mother, sister and nephew were also at the hearing.
Mbakwe wore black pants with a blue short sleeve dress shirt and maintained a steady face throughout hearing. He answered "yes sir" and "no sir."
Said Mbakwe: "I've been thinking about this since July 1. It's been stressing me and my family out and I'm glad it's over. ... I'm just going to stay on the right track now; no more slip-ups. The judge gave me another chance and I'm grateful for that. ... I'm just going to show everybody they were right in supporting me."
The U of M said as of now, there will be no statement on the Mbakwe decision from coach Tubby Smith.
Mbakwe was in court for a probation violation hearing that was set after a case status update on Wednesday. The Wednesday hearing was triggered by a September DUI conviction for a July arrest in Minnesota. Mbakwe was put on probation in Florida as part of a pretrial intervention program for a felony battery charge in 2009 and was still on probation when he was arrested in Minnesota.
According to Star Tribune correspondent Steve Gorten, who attended the hearing in Miami, Mbakwe and his attorney, Gregory Samms asked the judge to consider four extra years of probation, arguing that the sixth-year senior is in Alcoholics Anonymous and is struggling with depression.
Fernandez decided that two years of probation along with 20 hours of community service per month during that time was suitable punishment. He said Mbakwe is "still amenable to treatment" and that he has "the ability to turn around."
As part of the ruling, Mbakwe Mbakwe must also attend AA meetings 3 times per week and stay away from the victim, which includes direct contact, indirect and third person. Mbakwe will continue to meet with a University of Minnesota sports psychologist.
Mbakwe and Samms were hoping to reach a plea deal ahead of the hearing, but were unable to do so. While the battery victim said she was more interested in restitution than jail time, the state of Florida was unwilling to compromise.
Restitution for the victim’s treatment of a broken cheekbone was set to a sliding scale that will increase if Mbakwe gets drafted to play in the NBA.
Minnesota addressed Mbakwe’s DUI for the first time a week ago at basketball media day. At the time, Smith said he suspended Mbakwe from team activities for some time but ultimately agreed to allow him to stay on the team, citing in part Mbakwe’s future in the NBA being at stake.
A U of M spokesperson said Thursday that Mbakwe's status on the team would not be changed if additional probation was the outcome of Friday's hearing.
"Once we get through this, just move forward. Now it's just my job to fight for minutes, back to square one, showing and proving I belong on the team and deserve minutes," Mbakwe said Friday.
Today’s hearing was the latest in a series of problems that has plagued Mbakwe since before he came to Minnesota.
After a year at Marquette, the sixth-year senior transferred to Miami Dade College, where he was charged with felony battery. Since Mbakwe was then a first-time offender, he was placed into a pre-trial intervention program that effectively would seal his case providing he stayed law-abiding during his probation.
Mbakwe transferred to Minnesota prior to the start of the 2009-10 season but sat out because the case had not gone to trial. In January 2011, Mbakwe was arrested for violating a restraining order held by a St. Paul woman, by sending her a message on Facebook. His probation in Minnesota stemming from that incident is set to expire Dec. 12. He then became ineligible for the pre-trial program in Florida.
With the Miami case re-starting from scratch, Mbakwe eventually pleaded no contest and was was placed on probation in Florida. That probation was set to end In February 2013.
"He sends some stupid email wishing her well and here we are," Samms said Friday in regards to the Facebook arrest, which was one of the three strikes against Mbakwe going into the hearing.
Samms was emotional after Friday's hearing was over. "I so didn't want him to go to jail," he said. :We've been together for so long now. He's like my son."
Mbakwe was granted a sixth year of eligibility for this season by the NCAA after he tore his ACL in the team’s seventh game of the season, forcing him to miss the remaining portion of the schedule. If healthy and still in good standing with the team, he is expected to be a key contributor to a squad with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations.