Minnesota basketball seniors know time is now

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2013 - 10:21 AM

Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are trying for one last hurrah.

hide

Gopher’s Trevor Mbakwe picked up teammate Rodney Williams Jr. during a timeout

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

As Rodney Williams left the court on senior day, the last of the Gophers’ four seniors to get his late exit and standing ovation, he put his arms around coach Tubby Smith and then went right to Trevor Mbakwe, who stood waiting to embrace the teammate with whom he has been through so much.

The pair hugged, Mbakwe placing his massive paw on top of Williams’ head, and took their places on the bench for the remainder of the 73-44 victory over Penn State. When the game was over, they shook a few hands and quietly filed into the locker room.

There were no dramatics. No tears during the halftime ceremonies and no kissing the court. Perhaps that’s because both Williams and Mbakwe know there is work to be done, that if senior day was the peak, the Gophers will be in trouble and any future careers of theirs in doubt.

With that sentiment in mind, two games later — the day after the Gophers lost at Purdue, which had followed a loss at Nebraska — Mbakwe sent Williams a text message.

“I just told him, this is the end of it,” Mbakwe said.

The back-and-forth turned into a long and somewhat emotional text conversation — which was kept to just that, because, well, Mbakwe and Williams’ free minutes for calling didn’t kick in until 7 p.m. that night.

As they head into the Big Ten tournament as the elder statesmen of the Gophers’ starting five, they know they won’t be college kids worrying about cellphone minutes much longer.

But where Mbakwe and Williams go beyond that, and on what note they leave, could be significantly impacted by what they and the Gophers do in the postseason. Their final push begins when they face Illinois on Thursday morning in Chicago.

Though an NCAA tournament berth should follow no matter what happens Thursday, this sentiment lingers regardless: Can the Gophers pull together a season that has drifted far away from where it started, and finish on a strong note? Or will a team that has been called one of the most disappointing teams in the country continue to fade away quietly?

“This is it for us,” Mbakwe said. “Being hometown kids, and how much it means just to be able to walk around and [have fans] being proud of you. ... Regardless of if we win or not, we only have a few more weeks here to be able to put the Gopher jersey on, and we know it’s going to be big for us. We don’t want to end our career like that, being a team that underachieved.”

They don’t want that label on themselves, either. Both came to the Gophers with great expectations and clear talent, and soon both were projected to eventually be drafted in the NBA. But Mbakwe’s college career was interrupted by injury and marred by legal trouble, and Williams’ career is one that has seen great highlights but also stretches where he seems to disappear, often looked at as one that never saw the athletic forward claim his full potential.

While Mbakwe and Williams have been among the team’s headliners, Smith has grown frustrated with both of them, and seems to have given up on either of them becoming the leaders that this Gophers team has at times lacked.

“I’d like to see it,” said Smith, noting that he has tried for four years to unlock Williams’ promise. “I think they’re trying. I think they’re giving us their best effort. It is what it is. I don’t think they haven’t tried to play better. It’s just — we all have limitations. And at this point in time, you’ve got to overachieve. If they’re willing to overachieve, we’ll have a good run.”

Williams said he feels the pressure, but he has tried not to let it bog him down to the point of where he becomes paralyzed on the court, as it has at times in his four years at Minnesota. At the same time, the chance for him to make a statement, on a couple of big stages, is impossible to ignore.

“We talked about this is pretty much going to be where we make our money at,” he said. “There’s a burden. But I can’t let that get to me.”

But it’s now or never for the seniors, a sentiment that applies to the roster as a whole. The finality is inevitable — the season will end, Williams and Mbakwe will move on and the Gophers will disperse for the summer.

The content of the text messages that follow can be decided in the next two weeks.



 

  • BIG TEN TOURNAMENT GOPHERS VS. ILLINOIS 11 a.m. today • United Center, Chicago • TV: BTN (1500-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Brooklyn 109 FINAL
Boston 107
Cleveland 98 FINAL
Orlando 89
Indiana 109 FINAL
Detroit 119
Milwaukee 107 FINAL
Atlanta 77
Houston 117 FINAL
Memphis 111
San Antonio 90 FINAL
New Orleans 97
Charlotte 75 FINAL
Oklahoma City 98
LA Lakers 98 FINAL
Dallas 102
Minnesota 102 FINAL
Denver 106
Philadelphia 93 FINAL
Portland 114
Phoenix 115 FINAL
Sacramento 106
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
(15) Arizona State 12/27/14 1:10 PM
Duke
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close