The Gophers men's basketball team took time during its annual media day Friday to reveal that Trevor Mbakwe was nearly kicked off the team following a drunken-driving arrest in July.
The arrest, which had not been previously reported, is the latest in a string of legal battles for the standout forward, but it looks as if he will remain on the team.
Coach Tubby Smith said he came close to dismissing the sixth-year senior outright but ultimately allowed him to return on the condition that he complete certain undisclosed "requirements."
Mbakwe, 23, said in a text message to a Star Tribune reporter that the drunken driving charge is not going to affect his status with the Gophers this season.
"He's lucky to still be around here, No. 1," Smith said. "I know he made a mistake, but we've come this far with him and he's been through a serious injury. One of the things I think, Trevor has the possibility of making a livelihood in this profession, playing basketball, so I wanted to make sure we gave him the opportunity as long as he does the things that we expect and require him to do."
Minnetonka police arrested Mbakwe on July 1, according to court records, and he was charged with misdemeanor drunken driving. He was sentenced to 30 days in the Hennepin County workhouse, with two days served and 28 days stayed; 16 hours of community service, and a year of probation. He was fined $300, plus court costs of $78.
According to the police report, Mbakwe failed to pull over to the right shoulder for a squad car responding to a burglary. When the burglary call was canceled, the police car was still behind Mbakwe, who was pulled over for failing to yield. Mbakwe, who initially said he had only had one beer, submitted to a urine test, which registered .12 percent alcohol content. The legal limit is .08 percent.
Mbakwe, who is from St. Paul and graduated from now-defunct St. Bernard's, was already on probation (through Dec. 12) for violating a restraining order in Ramsey County in 2011.
Smith said Mbakwe immediately informed him of the incident, upon which the coach suspended the forward from all team activities.
Mbakwe's lawyer, Laura Nolen, said he received another year of probation plus 16 hours of community service as a sentence. He had a separate hearing for violating his current probation, in which attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and visiting with his sports psychologist once a week was negotiated as punishment.
Mbakwe already has completed the community service, Nolen said.
At Gophers media day on Friday, Mbakwe gave a quick statement, saying he informed the university immediately and that it was being handled internally.
"This is something neither the university nor Trevor is taking lightly," athletic director Norwood Teague said. "After considering the options, Minnesota has agreed to work with him, and he is working hard to meet all the requirements we are asking of him to remain with the team."
Mbakwe's career at the university has been marred by legal problems. After a year at Marquette, he transferred to Miami Dade College, where he was charged with felony assault. He transferred to Minnesota before the 2009-10 season but was not allowed to play because the Miami charge had yet to go to trial.
Mbakwe ultimately entered a pretrial intervention program in August 2010, effectively resolving the case. He agreed to community service but never pleaded guilty, and was reinstated by then-AD Joel Maturi.
According to court records, Mbakwe has a scheduled hearing on Wednesday for violating his probation in Florida. It's not clear whether he will have to be present or whether his lawyer will represent him.
In January 2011, Mbakwe sent a Facebook message to a Ramsey County woman who held a restraining order against him. The woman called police, and Mbakwe was arrested.
After being released, he criticized the woman on Twitter. The university decided against suspending him. He was named second-team All-Big Ten for 2010-11 after averaging 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds that season.
Mbakwe had a probationary sanction hearing in Ramsey County after his drunken driving arrest, according to a county court spokeswoman.
Mbakwe was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing most of last season because of an injury. He torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the team's seventh game of the season, in a Thanksgiving tournament game in Orlando against Dayton. He averaged 14 points and 9.1 rebounds before the injury.