Mbakwe Looking For His Chance

Mbakwe Looking For His NBA Chance

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Trevor Mbakwe is getting his first taste of what it’s like physically playing at the NBA level. His body, not yet used to the transition from the 35-game NCAA schedule to the rigors of an 82-game NBA marathon, is learning day-by-day what lies ahead at the next level.

Standing in the LifeTime Fitness Training Center on Monday, looking a little more slender than he did when he wore a Gophers uniform for the last time in March due to those continuous NBA workouts, Mbakwe wasn’t complaining. He knows what it will take to perhaps hear his name called during the June 27 NBA Draft. He knows it’s a blessing to work out here, in his home state, as part of his ninth overall NBA workout with four more to go.

He’s getting his name, and his game, out there for NBA executives and coaches to evaluate. Others have made this rigorous trek before, and it’s paid off big time in the end.

And if he needed any reinforcement of that fact, he got it during a Father’s Day phone call with former Gophers coach Tubby Smith on Sunday.

“He’s been through this process with a lot of his players,” Mbakwe said. “Tayshaun Prince (who played for Smith at Kentucky) went through 19 workouts himself. I was complaining about 13.”

Mbakwe was part of Monday’s six-man Draft workout, competing with North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, New Mexico’s Tony Snell, Arizona State’s Carrick Felix and Utah’s Jason Washburn. At 6-foot-8 and working toward an ideal weight of 250 pounds, Mbakwe will be a tad undersized at the power forward position in the NBA. He knows that. But he’s working on his game while continuing to hold onto that energy he displayed throughout his tenure at Williams Arena.

Throughout this offseason, Mbakwe said he’s been working on that 15-17 foot midrange jumper, something he’ll need to develop to create a little space on the floor against bigger and possibly more physical defenders. But he’s hoping to display the type of energy teams are seeing out of Denver’s Kenneth Faried and Detroit’s Jason Maxiell at the next level.

If he can accomplish that, he could be a steal in the second round of this year’s draft.

Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders believes in Mbakwe. As a Minnesota alum, Saunders was at Williams Arena watching Mbakwe play during his tenure in Dinkytown—particularly last season. He’s been on record saying he told Indiana’s Cody Zeller that Mbakwe “kicked his butt” during the Gophers’ upset win over the top-ranked Hoosiers in February, and he likes the energy Mbakwe brings each night.

The question at the next level will be his size and the durability of his knees—particularly after tearing the ACL in his right knee in November 2011.

“More than anything, I really believe he’s got the talent to play in this league,” Saunders said. “But he’s had some issues as far as his knees. In the NBA, when you have those types of issues, now instead of playing 30 games you’re playing 82. That’s something you have to look at. He’s going to have opportunities, but it’s a matter of where it’s going to happen.”

Saunders said it makes no difference that Mbakwe grew up in the Twin Cities and played with the Gophers. The Wolves base their decisions off how good the player fits onto this roster. Mbakwe must prove himself like any other player, although Saunders does have an idea about the type of player Mbakwe can be.

Mbakwe lit up when talking about possibly playing here in this market. But having 13 workouts leading up to the draft, there’s a chance another team just might step in and call his name along the way.

“Just being drafted period is going to be a great opportunity for me,” Mbakwe said. “All the things I’ve had to go through, the long journey that a lot of you guys experienced with me. But it’d be awesome hearing my name called on June 27.”

Snell, Bullock work out for Wolves

North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock and New Mexico’s Tony Snell were a pair of 2-guards highlighting this particular group of prospects. Both got a chance to work out with the Wolves’ coaching staff and in front of Saunders and the rest of the basketball operations department.

It’s nothing new for these guys, not only competing with one another to showcase their skills but also feeding off one another to provide the best workout they can. Both players know the Wolves are looking for perimeter shooters, and both are hoping they left a good impression during their workout.

“I hope I’m one of those guys (the Wolves will look at),” Snell said. “All I need is that one opportunity.”

Snell shot 42 percent from the field last year and hit 38 percent of his shots from 3-point range. He averaged 12.5 points and 2.9 assists during his final year in New Mexico, and he shooting and perimeter defense are two areas where he’s strongest.

Bullock left the Tar Heels with the eighth most 3-point makes in school history. He hit 188 during his career, including shooting 43.6 percent during his final year in Chapel Hill.

He’s billed as an unselfish player who can hit the outside shot, rebound and defend multiple positions. He said he knows the Wolves are looking for players on the wing, and he’s hopeful he’ll get his chance either here or somewhere else in the league.

“They’ve seen a lot of game film on me, they see I can shoot the ball,” Bullock said. “They just want to see what I can do when I match up against other great palyers that were in college with me like Tony Snell and Deshaun Thomas and see how competitive I am against those guys. So I just try to bring it every time.”

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