Trevor Mbakwe may be in his second year playing professional basketball, but the Brose Baskets Bamberg big man is anything but the typical second-year player. Mbakwe is already 25 years old, has a six-year-old son and he loves rebounding. It's not hard to see why Mbakwe is a great rebounder with his huge hands, long arms and good jumping ability. Despite grabbing just one rebound in Bamberg's final Eurocup Regular Season game, he still averaged a team-high 8.6 boards per game and had with four games in double figures rebounds – good for second in the competition behind only former Bamberg big man Sharrod Ford’s 9.1 rebounds.
When asked if he likes scoring or rebounding more, Mbakwe, who is averaging 8.1 points per game gave the expected answer: “Oh, getting rebounds for sure. That’s where I get my money. Most nights I could do a pretty good job scoring, but the first thing I definitely look at is my rebounds at the end of the game.”
Mbakwe doesn’t really rely on a wide array of offensive moves, going instead with the traditional offensive rebound and put-back – thanks to an average of 3.2 offensive rebounds per game – and emphatic dunks. He may have a big hearty and welcoming laugh, but Mbakwe does try to be an intimidator on the court – also by letting out a yell after a big dunk.
“Players like me who are undersized, you have to play bigger than what you are. I have to bring another dimension to my game to make up for my lack of height,” said Mbakwe, who stands 2.07 meters, but has blocked 1.3 shots per game. “When I’m playing against 7-footers (2.13 meters) or guys like 6-10 (2.08m), I have to be more aggressive than the average guy to make up for whatever I lack. That’s something that I have carried with me for a long time – an ability to rebound and block shots. And just play aggressive. That’s the way I like to play, and that’s how coaches have used me during my career.”
Mbakwe’s pro career began last season, when he averaged 6.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in the Eurocup for Virtus Rome and 10.6 points, a Serie A second-best 10.1 rebounds and league-high 1.5 blocks in the Italian league and playoffs.
“Overall, I think I did pretty good as a rookie. I had my ups and downs, just like any time you’re playing that far away from home in a different country,” said Mbakwe, who moved to Italy with his fiancée Jennifer and son Makhi. “It was a great test for me to come out of college and play Eurocup and play some of the top teams.”
Mbakwe’s commitment to basketball was tested during his college career at the University of Minnesota. After a terrific junior season – he led the Big Ten Conference in rebounding during the 2010-11 season, Mbakwe tore his ACL, which held him back for most of his final collegiate season in 2012-13. “I tore my ACL and that kind of put me back a little bit as far as moving forward, but I can’t hold my head down too long. I just have to move on and play as best as I can,” said Mbakwe, who ended up having six years of college eligibility – two more than the usual four – because of a transfer, injuries and a redshirt year. That’s the reason why he’s already 25 years old and just in his second year of professional basketball.
The St. Paul, Minnesota native said moving from the metropolis Rome to Bamberg – a sleepy Franconian town of 71,000 – was a big difference. “Rome’s huge. It takes hours just to go down the street. That’s how busy it is. But the fans in Bamberg are great. It’s a small town, but they love basketball here,” said Mbakwe. “There’s not a football team here. Basketball is the main priority here. In Rome, there is so much more going on. With the tradition of the city and the big football teams, we weren’t getting the biggest crowds. They have some loyal fans, but it doesn’t compare to how things have been here. It’s definitely a luxury when you’re the main attraction in your town.”
Basketball is not the only thing in Mbakwe’s life. His German is not as good as his Italian was, but he still loves having his family of Jennifer and Makhi around him. "Surprisingly, [Makhi]’s adapted pretty well. It’s not easy having to move him across the world and speak a whole other language. But so far he’s done pretty well,” said Mbakwe, whose son was attended an international school in Italy and does the same in Bamberg. “I think that helps him, but it was definitely hard times for him, missing his family and friends back home. But so far he’s been doing a great job adjusting to a new lifestyle. It also helps when we have other teammates with kids and he can play with them and bond with them.”
When he’s not busy with basketball or his family, he is also working on his master’s degree in sports management, which he plans on finishing in the next year and a half. “It would be great to be able to walk away with my master’s from the University of Minnesota.”
His alma mater also keeps him busy in another way as Mbakwe is a passionate American football fan. “Just watching football Saturday and Sunday is one of the biggest things that you miss when you’re in a different country. But luckily they do have replays. It’s not the same when you know the outcomes already, but it’s better than nothing,” said Mbakwe.
When not watching football games, Mbakwe also has a job to do on the basketball court. And the basketball decision to come to Bamberg was not a hard one for Mbakwe, who said he knew that new Bamberg coach Andrea Trinchieri has had success in the past and coached some big time players. “I knew he was going to push me to take that next step in my career,” Mbakwe said about the Italian Trinchieri.
Mbakwe also was really looking forward to playing with Bamberg playmaker Brad Wanamaker after having played against him in Italy last season. “He was one of my favorite players to watch in Italy last year. It’s great how strong he is and how he’s able to create and make plays for others.”
The winning tradition of Brose Baskets – winners of four straight German league titles from 2010 to 2013 – and the pressure attached to that were two more reasons for the move to southern Germany. “We knew we had pressure coming in. As athletes you like that pressure. We want to be in a situation on teams where the fans and the owners expect you to win championships. It’s part of our career,” said Mbakwe. “Our goal is to win a German championship and a Eurocup championship.”
That definitely sounds like what every bit-time player would say, even though Trevor Mbakwe isn’t quite your typical second-year guy.