Trevor Mbakwe has the opportunity to play one more year with the Gophers men's basketball team. But whether he will take it, and how Minnesota would adjust if he does come back, still linger as questions.
The university confirmed Friday the NCAA granted a sixth year of eligibility to Mbakwe, who was leading the team with 14 points and 9.1 rebounds a game before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in November.
"The NCAA made the right decision," coach Tubby Smith said in a statement. "Trevor has done everything we have asked of him for three years now and he deserves the right to compete for a sixth season."
The opportunity, of course, does not ensure it will actually happen. Mbakwe is still weighing his options -- come back or turn pro. A sixth year would give Mbakwe another opportunity to play for a program that has supported him, and it could help boost his NBA draft stock by showing scouts his physical progress. At the same time, Mbakwe will be 24 midway through next season and the lure of income -- particularly when providing for a family, as the forward is -- could prove to be tempting.
"It's going to be a tough decision," Mbakwe said Friday. "I want to play ... with all my teammates. I missed them, and I'm not happy with the way this last year went."
Because of a new NCAA rule this year, players who enter the NBA draft have until April 10 -- the day before the spring signing period starts -- to withdraw their name, about a month earlier than last season. Mbakwe could still declare for the draft as late as April 29, but it would be a permanent decision any time after April 10.
Mbakwe, who graduated in December and is enrolled in grad-level classes, said Friday he does not plan to hire an agent "any time soon." Mbakwe said he is slated to start running in a couple of weeks, but he still faces months of recovery. Because he is coming off surgery Dec. 30, turning pro would be a risk, NBA draft analyst and blogger Ed Isaacson said.
"It's one of those things where you know the guy can play; you know he has it in him," said Isaacson, who writes for NBAdraftblog.com. "But with getting a guaranteed contract in the first round, how are you going to risk that [as an NBA team] without being able to test him first? On the flip side, how does Trevor go in not knowing he's going to get that guarantee?"
If Mbakwe returns, it would create a complicated situation regarding scholarships. With Ralph Sampson III graduating and two recruits coming in, Minnesota has the NCAA maximum 13 on the books -- meaning that for Mbakwe to return, another player would need to leave early or transfer to free up a scholarship.
It would also create potentially interesting lineup questions. Still, those are problems the Gophers coaching staff and players would like to have.
Freshman Andre Hollins tweeted: "Best news of the day by far is finding out that [Mbakwe] has been approved for another year!!!!!!"
Sixth years are not commonly granted in college basketball -- particularly for players who did not miss both years solely because of injuries. Mbakwe transferred to Minnesota but sat out the 2009-10 season because of legal issues stemming from an assault charge when he was playing for Miami Dade College. But for Mbakwe, the option exists. Now it's up to him to decide which path to take.
"I still have to work some things out and see what the best option is for me," Mbakwe said. "Right now, I'm just playing it by ear and taking it day by day."