Mbakwe loses starting job with Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS -- Trevor Mbakwe has logged out.
Minnesota's leading scorer and rebounder is still a member of the team following a social media mistake that sent him to jail, although coach Tubby Smith said the junior forward now will be a reserve. Smith said he also told Mbakwe not to use Facebook or Twitter, following Mbakwe's alleged violation of a harassment restraining order against him.
Mbakwe sent a message on Facebook to a former girlfriend on Sunday, and St. Paul city attorney Sara Grewing told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday that he has been charged with violating a harassment restraining order.
He also criticized his former girlfriend on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. Both of those accounts have since been disabled.
"That's one of the things we discussed," Smith said, sternly.
Mbakwe apologized after Wednesday's practice to his teammates, family and fans for what he called poor judgment.
"It was just me trying to reach out and be generous, but it backfired on me," Mbakwe said, adding: "I know it was really stupid on my part. I'm just glad they gave me a chance to play."
Colton Iverson will start in Mbakwe's place in Thursday's game against Purdue.
"I think he's learned a serious lesson about that, when you don't obey the rules or a court order it brings a negative publicity to this program, to the university," Smith said, adding: "There are other things we're going to do internally that he's going to have to do, so he can understand that that's not going to be tolerated."
Mbakwe was taken to jail on Monday night and later released after posting bail. His ex filed the no-harrasment order in 2009.
Mbakwe leads the Gophers (12-4, 1-3 Big Ten) with 13.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He transferred to Minnesota in 2009, but he was not allowed to play last season while an unrelated legal matter got resolved.
Minnesota senior associate athletic director Regina Sullivan said her department frequently stresses responsible use of social networking sites and warns athletes of the potential problems. The men's basketball team, as with many Gophers sports squads, has been addressed previously this season about the issue.
"And there have been conversations more recently," Sullivan said, smiling but declining to elaborate.
The key points are these: That conversation with your friend on Facebook or Twitter isn't private, and you have to be careful about what you say to people beyond your inner circle.
"I think you've got to watch what you say a little bit," Gophers senior guard Blake Hoffarber said. "I try to stay away from that. I'm on it. I'm not really saying too much on my statuses and stuff like that. ... I'd say I limit myself a little bit because you never know what other people are thinking about you or saying or thinking you're thinking."
Twitter and other social networking sites have become an issue in college athletics.
Football coaches at schools such as Boise State, Miami and North Carolina ordered players to stop using Twitter last year, calling it a distraction.
On the basketball side, Villanova coach Jay Wright told his team before the season to take a Twitter break, citing the concern about public perceptions of players.
"People on websites were just picking up normal banter between the players and making issues out of things" that weren't a big deal, Wright said.
The Gophers have sure endured their share of headaches. In football last fall, wide receiver and kickoff returner Troy Stoudermire was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Stoudermire then posted on Facebook he wanted to transfer to another program where he'd be "appreciated and respected as a player," before being reinstated to the team and returning as a cornerback.
Last season, top recruit Royce White was prohibited from playing for Smith and the Gophers because he had legal matters pending. White put a video on YouTube, expressing his frustration and declaring his intent to leave the program, more than a month before he actually withdrew from school.
Minnesota athletic department policy includes regular instruction and warning about the use of social media, but the school doesn't believe in prohibition, however.
"We talk about it every year," Sullivan told The Associated Press. "We've talked about it as long as it's been in play now, and we talked about it initially: 'Do we ban it?' The position we came to is this is a tool that kids use every day. Billions of people worldwide use it. To ban it doesn't help them to grow with it. Now do they have transition pains? Absolutely. But we do educate them and we do monitor it and keep on top of it and help them to learn the power of the tools that are available to them."
The fishbowl effect for high-profile athletes can be quickly magnified through social media.
"They're under a microscope, and we've learned that recently," Sullivan said. "If it's another student who's not an athlete, that probably flies under the radar. So that's part of the educational process that we do with them."
AP College Basketball Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.