Anyone that saw the Gophers' loss to Dayton tonight probably has their stomach in knots after seeing Trevor Mbawke go down with a right knee injury. When I first saw that he was the player on the ground holding his knee, I was just hoping he was banged up a little and would be able to get up in walk it off. As I continued to watch, I knew that was not going to be the case. Mbakwe was helped off the court and could not put any weight on his leg. He began trying to, but you could just see the pain in his face. When you look at the tears, you had to wonder, is he crying because he's in pain, or because he knows this is a season ending injury? Trevor returned to the bench with crutches, and had just buried his face in a towel, so everyone could not see his sadness. Being the consummate teammate, as always, I actually saw him applauding his teammates while being covered in the towel. He only remained on the bench for a short time, and when he left, he crutched over to his teammates to give the high fives and encouraging words. The Gophers did not just lose their best player, and one of the best players in the Big 10, but they lost their leader and the heart of the team. Even off the court, he's tweeted:
"Lord please get me through this"
"Thanks everyone for your prayers. I really appreciate it the support. Tough times don't last but tough ppl do."
"Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback."
This is a guy that is still motivating the team and the fans.
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press/Reinhold Matay
If you had been on Twitter during this time, you would have guessed that Mbakwe just died, as everyone voiced their well wishes for him and a recovery. I don't think I've ever cared less about the outcome of a game, and more about a player that I did today. It reminded me of when JB Bickerstaff was injured for his senior year, after being injured his junior year as well. However, that doesn't even compare to today. When you look at Mbakwe, he is a man that has been through so many up's and downs in his Gopher and basketball career. He has already been through injury when he was at Marquette his freshman year (on his left kneed that time). He was forced to sit out an entire year when coming to Minnesota, who many think was very unfair, including myself. Now, he returned to the Gophers, passing up the chance of going pro last year, and he could have incurred a season ending injury. Through all this, he has not lost a step. After he sat out for a year, he came back bigger and stronger. He is the leader of the team, and is our most consistent player. He is also on track to graduate next month with his degree. On top of that, he's a dedicated father and boyfriend, who I'm sure, wanted to be able to support his family next year. That’s what makes these even tougher to stomach.
Now what? Well, we wait for the results of his MRI. We can all hope for the best, but expect the worse….that's what I've come accustomed to doing as a Gopher fan. So, what happens if Mbakwe is out for the season? The Mo Walker situation comes into play. How ready is he to come back? I know that sitting him for the season to heal was a good option a few hours ago, but now, if there's anyway we can play, we need him. After Colton Iverson transferred last year, I remember thinking that we were one injury away from being in big trouble, I just never knew how bad it could be if that injury was Mbakwe's.
During the past few years, we've had a lot of incidents that have wounded the Gopher basketball program, from the Jimmy Williams situation to Al Nolen's academic issues and injury, Mbakwe being benched for a season, Royce White, Devron Bostick, and Devoe Joseph's off the court issues, Devoe Joseph and others transferring, the list goes on and on. What this should not be is an excuse. Whether it's self inflicted or not, Gopher fans can't catch a break. Losing your best player should not take you out of the NCAA hunt, nor should it be an excuse. Ask Matt Painter if losing Robbie Hummel two seasons in a row ruined his NCAA chances.
One of our posters on GopherHole had an excellent post regarding Tubby, and if he's got the energy to deal with yet, another issue:
"My question for this group is whether (or not) Tubby has the energy to overcome the loss of Mbakwe (we hope and pray it doesn't get to that). It is certain that if he's gone the season is gone as well. This would mean that four years after arriving, he's back at square one. Rather he's still at square one. He's yet to recruit a single game changing player (with the possible exception of R. White), heck he's not even been able to get the Athletic Dep't to build him the practice facility they promised."
Which is an excellent question to ask. It's not an insult to Tubby, but this is one of the most high stress jobs, and it takes a lot out of you. At best, from seeing this team in the non-conference, they looked like a mediocre Big 10 team. Without Trevor Mbakwe, Tubby will still need to find a way to win with a lot of young players. That will take a great deal of hard work, player development, and excellent in-game coaching.
With that being said, we have no idea what the outcome of Mbawke's MRI will be. He is in the hearts and prayers of all Gopher fans, and Minnesotans in general. Let's just hope this Gopher season isn't over before it's even really had a chance to start.