I talked to Gophers returning sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe for a story that ran in yesterday’s paper, and the forward had plenty of interesting things to say. Beyond the topics that got in yesterday’s article (the status of his ACL rehab, his decision to return to the Gophers, his thoughts on this fall’s team), I thought there were other items worth noting here:
On returning from an ACL tear: “Initially when we started doing drills on the ball and I’d be cutting, changing directions, things like that, I was kind of nervous and everything, but with time and patience, I just continued to gain confidence in my knee and trust that the doctor did a great job.
“There’s times I kind of think about it in my head, when I move it, and I think ‘Am I going to hurt myself?’ But for the most part, I trust that my knee is doing pretty well.”
Mbakwe said he is a little bit ahead of schedule and is about a month away from playing to full contact on the court.
On Rodney Williams: “Rodney … took it to a whole new level at the end of the postseason. I’ve been with Rodney since we came in together. We always expected that and we always saw bits and pieces of that. It’s just him being more aggressive. People say ‘Oh, his natural position is the 4,’ but I think he can do the same thing at the 3 spot and have the same advantage.: his quickness and athleticism, not many people in the country can compete with him athletically … This is his last go-round and I think he wants to just show everybody the kind of player that he is – that he’s not just one-dimensional.”
On Andre Hollins: “Since he came on campus last summer, I was always a big fan of Andre. He would take the winning shot in open gym and he just had that demeanor like he wasn’t scared of anything. He had that mentality of all great guards. I wasn’t surprised at all [with how he played in the postseason]. I think we all expected that out of Andre when he came here … At the end of the season, you could see he was playing with so much confidence. He played with Trey Burke and they were going at it. I think Andre’s going to have a big season and we’re going to need him. Need him to keep being aggressive.”
On Mo Walker: “That’s the biggest thing, just keeping him on the court. I was there at Pulley when he sprained his ankle, and it’s just getting over that. Mo’s a big guy and he’s definitely going to be a big piece. When we add his size and what he can do on the court, it’s going to make it so much better for our teammates and just myself. He can guard some of the bigger players and try to take some of that pounding away from me. I played with him his freshman year, we were kind of like the second team initially when we first got there. I love playing with him. He’s smart, he’s a smart player. And he’s been looking pretty good lately in practice, and we’ve just got to keep him healthy.”
On freshmen Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs: “They’re great. It’s just making that transition that every freshman has to make. It’s a lot more physical and there’s a lot more terminology in college and your athleticism can only take you so far. There is always someone who is stronger, quicker, more athletic than you are. But they’re hard workers. Wally’s in the gym all the time. He’s a gym rat and I love that about him. And Charles is a great guy too. They’re both willing to learn. There’s ties we’re going to need them for spurts. I don’t know how much they’re going to play, because we’re kind of a deep team, but that’s a positive thing about us. They’re going to have their moments like every freshman has, but just as long as they keep working hard.
On the Battle 4 Atlantis, the tournament the Gophers will be playing in over Thanksgiving: We’re all pretty excited. The chance to go to the Bahamas, No. 1, get out of Minnesota winter. We get a chance to play Coach (Mike) K(rzyzewski, the head coach of Duke, Minnesota’s first-round matchup). A few of us were here when we played North Carolina in Puerto Rico (in 2010). That would be pretty cool to beat both North Carolina and Duke. We have some great pre-season games before the regular season starts. It’s exciting anytime you get a chance to play against Duke, and I think it will be a good test to show where we are at the time. It’s going to be a good chance for us. Right after that, we’re going to Florida State, which is not an easy place to play. It’s definitely going to be a good stretch.”