Dave Campbell / Associated Press, Published June 17 2013
Former Gophers player Mbakwe works out for TimberwolvesMINNEAPOLIS – As an undersized power forward not that far removed from a major injury, Trevor Mbakwe has a lot to prove before establishing an NBA career.
At least one prominent decision-maker doesn’t need to see any more. Flip Saunders has made plenty of first-hand reviews.
“He’s a defender, competitor, shot blocker, rebounder. That’s what he does,” Sanders said. “To play in this league and be effective, you have to have an NBA talent. Nothing that you do average is going to make you that much better in the NBA. It’s trying to take the things that you do well and try to do better at those.”
Mbakwe was in the latest group of prospects brought in by the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday to run through drills, the ninth of 13 workouts he has scheduled before the draft on June 27. Looking a little slimmer than the 235 pounds he played at last season for the Gophers, Mbakwe flashed his big smile several times as he spoke about how often he’s seen Saunders prior to the session on the Target Center practice court.
Saunders, the new president of basketball operations for the Timberwolves, was a fixture at Williams Arena during the winter while rooting for his alma mater and evaluating potential NBA players. Saunders was there on Feb. 26, perhaps Mbakwe’s best college game, when the Gophers beat top-ranked Indiana.
Mbakwe pushed around Hoosiers 7-footer Cody Zeller that night, a physically dominating performance that Saunders actually reminded Zeller of when he worked out for the Timberwolves last week.
“It was a good game for me to have with all the GMs and the front office people there,” Mbakwe said.
The 24-year-old’s eventful amateur career included stints at three different schools spanning six years, off-the-court trouble and one devastating tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. That happened in November 2011, but the time lost to the surgery and subsequent rehabilitation left him with only one full season on the rebuilt joint.
“I really believe he’s got the talent to play in the league, but he’s had some issues with his knees, and in the NBA ... instead of playing 30 games, now you’re playing 82,” Saunders said. “That’s something you really have to look at.”