U's Mbakwe gets game feel back

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2012 - 11:49 AM

His first exhibition game appearance gave him something to build on and was a sight for sore eyes for Gophers fans.

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Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe pulled down a defensive rebound during the first half against Minnesota State Mankato at Williams Arena on Wednesday.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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On Thursday, no one needed to see Trevor Mbakwe explode for 15 points or grab a dozen rebounds.

Eventually the numbers will come -- that's the hope, anyway.

But Thursday, in the first exhibition game of the season for the Gophers men's basketball team, it was enough to see him take the court and help wash away nearly a year of injury and legal problems.

As he replaced Mo Walker in the game -- Walker gave Mbakwe a high-five -- the crowd of 8,907 gave the sixth-year senior a raucous ovation.

"That was a very high moment," Mbakwe said. "I'm very thankful that Gopher Nation has been accepting through all my ups and downs throughout my career. It was good to see that."

Mbakwe gave fans a quick reminder of his ability to impact a game, scoring a layup 35 seconds after stepping onto the court.

But he clearly wasn't at 100 percent. The forward seemed to be a bit cautious in the paint and moved a little tentatively.

"I was concerned just about how he would respond," coach Tubby Smith said. "He didn't really explode up like he has in practice, to be honest with you, so I think he was a little bit hesitant."

Mbakwe said afterward that he couldn't tell he was playing with any reluctance and would have to watch the film to see whether he needs a different approach. Smith has pointed out that Mbakwe's biggest task will be getting reconditioned.

But Mbakwe seemed confident all of that -- plus the signature dunks -- will come naturally.

"It felt good just to get out there, get that first rebound, those first points," he said. "You know, getting the momentum. No dunks -- I tried a couple times. But it felt good being out there."

For the foreseeable future, Mbakwe will be coming off the bench as he shakes off the rust, and Smith has not said when the forward might start.

But Mbakwe's confidence, it seems, is one thing that doesn't need any rehabbing.

"Well, that's up to Coach, right now I'm just playing," Mbakwe said before he was interrupted by a reporter.

The question: If he wanted you to start tomorrow, could you? Mbakwe didn't skip a beat.

"Yeah, I could," he said, smiling.

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