Hartman: Mutual admiration between Indiana's Crean, U's Mbakwe

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2013 - 11:53 AM

Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers face the Gophers on Saturday, was Trevor Mbakwe's coach at Marquette his freshman year and has a lot of respect for the Gophers center.

Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers face the Gophers on Saturday, was Trevor Mbakwe's coach at Marquette his freshman year and has a lot of respect for the Gophers center. Crean calls the 6-8 senior, known by some as "the Beast," one of the country's best players because of his versatility.

"[Mbakwe] has a great ability to rebound and score and is an excellent defender," said Crean about the Gophers star, who contributed 19 points and 14 rebounds in Wednesday's 84-67 victory at Illinois. "He's a tough, physical, imposing player, the way he can rebound and the way he can defend the other end.

"He was already one of the hardest matchups in college basketball, and now he might have become the hardest matchup."

Crean talked about how Mbakwe left Marquette after his coach took the Indiana job.

"[Mbakwe] chose not to stay there, and there have been some ups and downs with it, but he's back home," Crean said. "He's a proud father, and getting his [master's] degree, and I think he is going to have a very successful career at the next level after his senior year."

Mbakwe signed a national letter of intent with Marquette in 2006 as an All-Metro standout at St. Bernard's in St. Paul, where he averaged 21.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks as a senior.

When Mbakwe signed, Crean said: "Trevor was a focus and priority of ours the last three years, and we are incredibly excited to have him join the program. He has great strength, speed and quickness, but most importantly loves the game of basketball."

Mbakwe played in just 11 games as a freshman after suffering a strained fibular collateral ligament early in the season. He averaged 1.5 points and 2.1 rebounds. Then when Crean left for Indiana, Mbakwe transferred to Miami Dade Junior College before joining the Gophers.

Mbakwe, who said his surgically repaired knee is 100 percent healthy, talked about his great relationship with Crean and how he is looking forward to seeing his former coach and competing against fifth-ranked Indiana on Saturday.

"He was the first coach that I started with out of high school, and obviously it was tough when he left, but he did what was best for him and his family," said Mbakwe. "We've kept up a pretty good relationship over the last few years."

Mbakwe said Crean taught him a lot about "how to be a college player: play with intensity, play hard at all times.

"He taught me a lot coming in as a freshman, and that helped carry me on for the rest of my career," said Mbakwe.

Asked if he would have remained at Marquette if Crean had stayed, Mbakwe said: "That's tough to say right now, but I probably, I definitely would have stayed longer. We had a good relationship. Actually I think I probably would have still been there if he was still there.

"[Crean is] a hard worker. He never gives up. You can tell how he has changed Indiana's program since he's been there. He got there when there were a lot of sanctions, and now they were the preseason No. 1 this year. He's just a hard-working coach."

Now Mbakwe will try to use some of what he learned from Crean to knock Indiana off its perch.

Morris hopeful

Jack Morris, the great Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays pitcher who has been denied a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame 14 consecutive times, said he isn't giving up even though he is only on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballet for one more year.

Morris finished just 42 votes shy of getting inducted this year.

"Yeah, well, I'm not surprised [no one got in]. I kind of suspected that this year because of the situation," said Morris, citing many newly eligible players who were involved with steroids.

"I have to remain [positive]," he said. "The sun came up this morning, and I have a lot of support and a lot of friends who are still pulling for me. I'm not giving up. I've never done that in my life."

Jottings

• Graduating Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray has received an invitation to the NFL combine in Indianapolis in April. He has hired an agent and has begun training to get ready to make a good impression at the combine as a quarterback and wide receiver.

• Reid Travis, the outstanding DeLaSalle power forward who is ranked by ESPN as the 29th-best prospect in the 2014 class, was quoted in GopherHole saying that "it would definitely be nice to play in front of my family."

• There are reports that pitcher Francisco Liriano, whom the Twins were interested in signing, might be available because the two-year, $14 million contract he agreed to with the Pirates has fallen apart after Liriano hurt his non-throwing arm in December.

• The Vikings will be host of the 2013 "Honoring Legends-Inspiring Leaders" awards event April 28, not Sept. 28.

• With Penn State selecting John Butler to replace Ted Roof as its defensive coordinator, the Nittany Lions will have back-to-back defensive coordinators who worked for the Gophers under Tim Brewster. Butler was the special teams coach at Penn State after serving as special teams and linebackers coach for the Gophers under Roof. Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said in a statement Wednesday, "John quickly developed a great relationship with all our players on defense and special teams, and his ability to teach and relate to the players on and off the field will greatly assist in making this an easy transition."

• Former Eden Prairie High School standout Ethan Wragge scored a career-high 22 points in No. 13 Creighton's 91-61 victory over Drake on Tuesday. Wragge, a 6-7, 225-pound forward, is averaging 9.8 points. Interestingly he has gone 47-for-100 from the field, with only seven of those attempts from inside the three-point line. On three pointers, he is 43-of-93 (46.2 percent).

• Gophers point guard Andre Hollins was named one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award last week. Hollins is 12th in the Big Ten in scoring and 10th in assists.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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