A Facebook message sent to an ex-girlfriend. A jailed star. A season in jeopardy.
The latest episode in the soap opera also known as Gophers men's basketball played out Tuesday, when team officials announced they weren't going to suspend Trevor Mbakwe, the team's top scorer and rebounder.
St. Paul police arrested the junior forward Monday after he sent a Facebook message to his ex-girlfriend, in alleged violation of a harassment restraining order she had filed in 2009.
"Trevor had a lapse in judgment," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said in a statement Tuesday, two days before his team plays host to No. 8 Purdue. "I believe his actions were well-intended, but misguided, and we have made the decision not to suspend him after looking into the matter further. We believe this is the appropriate thing for Trevor and the program at this time. We view this as an educational opportunity for all of our players."
A few hours in jail Monday didn't stop Mbakwe from returning to social networking Tuesday, when he chose to vent about his situation on Twitter.
"Boy oh boy this some crazy stuff. I never thought in a million years that me writing an ex of mine a fb msg would cause all this drama," Mbakwe tweeted before his account was suspended Tuesday.
Mbakwe, who sat out last season because of legal problems, agreed to cease contact with the woman in August 2009 when she sought a harassment restraining order, citing his alleged repeated, unwanted phone calls and communication with her. The woman, who said at the time that she had recently broken up with Mbakwe, told a Dakota County judge that she feared for her safety. Mbakwe was facing a felony assault charge at the time filed earlier that year while attending Miami Dade Community College.
Mbakwe denied the allegations of his ex-girlfriend, but agreed to stay away from her.
A day after the ex-girlfriend filed her request for a restraining order, Mbakwe sought a harassment restraining order against the 22-year-old woman, who did not respond to multiple interview requests Tuesday. He accused her of trailing him in a car and tracking him down at a relative's home, despite his desire to keep his distance from her.
"She threatened to leak false information to local newspapers and mutual friends after becoming mad about my relationship with my fiancée," Mbakwe's petition stated. A Hennepin County judge denied his request.
The most recent issue between the two stemmed from a Facebook message Mbakwe sent Sunday, the day he recorded 16 points and 12 rebounds in a 67-64 loss at No. 2 Ohio State.
According to a university release, the message said: "I know we haven't talked in forever and trust me I'm not trying to start any drama with nobody in your life or anything. I just wanted to wish u the best with everything and I hope all has been well with you and your family. I am still disappointed how everything played out and I do wish that in the future we could be cool again. Idk how u r going to take this msg hopefully its not bad but I just wanted to wish u a happy new year and send out a congrats for graduating. I've been well I'm finally playin bball again in everything down in miami finally got taken care of thank god. Well idk if u will respond or not but best wishes for 2011."
Mbakwe is scheduled to make a court appearance in Ramsey County on Jan. 20.
Mbakwe's lawyer, Laura Nolen of Berndt Law Office in Minneapolis, said this is the first time she's heard of police arresting someone for allegedly violating a restraining order without violence. She said she worked as a domestic violence attorney for 13 years.
"It's a simple misunderstanding by Trevor, who's working hard on the court and off the court," she said. "It's all going to get cleared up once the facts come out."
Off-court drama has plagued the Gophers for more than a year. Royce White left school after last season after legal trouble kept him off the floor. Al Nolen missed the second half of last season because of academic issues. And Devoe Joseph, who missed the first six games of this season for violating team rules, left the program and transferred to Oregon earlier this week.
Mbakwe missed the 2009-10 campaign while awaiting the outcome of a felony assault case while attending Miami Dade. The case was resolved when he entered a pretrial intervention program, without pleading guilty.
That agreement could still prove problematic for Mbakwe.
"The Miami Dade State Attorney's office is gathering more information about Mbakwe's latest arrest," said spokeswoman Terry Chavez via e-mail Tuesday. She added that "the state attorney's office is waiting on additional information to determine if the arrest violates the pretrial intervention program Mbakwe entered in August, after being charged with felony assault."
Staff writers Abby Simons and Joy Powell contributed to this report.