Trevor Mbakwe's basketball future was on the line Friday in Florida when the Minnesota forward appeared before Judge Jose Fernandez due to a parole violation stemming from a July DUI in Minnesota.
Fernandez could have sentenced Mbakwe to up to 30 months in prison, effectively ending his college career at Minnesota and damaging his hopes of playing professionally one day. Instead he showed lenience by merely handing down an additional two years of probation and requiring Mbakwe to attend AA meetings and perform 20 hours of community service per month.
The result of the ruling appears to be that Mbakwe will be able to play right away for Minnesota this season, assuming his surgically repaired knee allows it. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported Mbakwe's status with the team was unlikely to change unless he was sentenced to jail time.
Mbakwe emerged from the courtroom Friday relieved that the judge ruled in his favor.
"I've been thinking about this since July 1," he told the Star-Tribune. "It's been stressing me and my family out and I'm glad it's over. ... I'm just going to stay on the right track now; no more slip-ups. The judge gave me another chance and I'm grateful for that. ... I'm just going to show everybody they were right in supporting me."
Mbakwe needs to live up to his "no more slip-ups" promise because frankly he's received more chances than most in his shoes would have gotten.
His legal issues started when he was charged with felony assault during junior college in Florida for allegedly punching a woman and breaking bones in her face. Later, he was arrested for harassment when he allegedly posted a Facebook message to a St. Paul woman's page in violation of a restraining order she previously obtained. Those previous issues landed him on probation, which he violated in July with his DUI.
Part of the reason Minnesota has been willing to look past his legal trouble is surely his impact on the court. The double-double threat averaged 14.0 points and 9.1 rebounds last season before going down with a season-ending knee injury.
In his comments to Mbakwe, Judge Fernandez offered this warning: "You're not a cat; you don't have nine lives."
Mbakwe should heed that warning. He is fortunate Minnesota is granting him another chance, but he has already damaged his reputation and one more "slip-up" could be his last.