In sophomore season, Daniel Oturu has established himself as one of the nation’s best centers

Oturu is averaging 20.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.

Gophers Center Daniel Oturu dunks the ball at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15.  Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Center Daniel Oturu dunks the ball at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 15. Minnesota defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 75-69. (Kamaan Richards / Minnesota Daily)

by Nick Jungheim

Prior to the 2019-20 season, the Gophers knew their front court production would rely heavily on the play of sophomore Daniel Oturu. 

Although Oturu turned in a solid freshman campaign in a complementary role, coaches thrust more on the 6-foot-10-inch Woodbury native after a season-ending injury to redshirt junior Eric Curry reduced the front court depth to newcomers and inexperienced backups.

Through 18 games, Oturu has exceeded all expectations, filling the hole in production left by first-team All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy, who graduated after last season. So far this season, Oturu has posted 11 double-doubles — a similar rate to Murphy, who ranked second nationally in the category in 2018-19 with 22.

“Probably my biggest takeaway from playing with Murphy was to be as physical as possible down low in the post,” Oturu said. “He was so low to the ground and explosive, I feel like that was a great trait to take away from him.”

In some cases, Oturu has surpassed Murphy’s production. In a 75-67 victory over Michigan on Jan. 12, Oturu scored a career-high 30 points, a single-game mark Murphy never reached against a Big Ten opponent. Against FIU on Dec. 28, Oturu put up a double-double with 21 points and 20 rebounds, becoming the first Gopher to record more than 20 points and rebounds in the same game since 1966.

“It was pretty special,” Oturu said after the FIU game. “My coaches always challenge me to play hard and rebound the ball, so that’s what I really try to focus on.”

For his impressive play, Oturu has twice received Big Ten Player of the Week honors this season. Statistically, he is near the top of the conference in several notable categories. He leads the Big Ten in rebounds per game (11.9), ranks second in points per game (20.2) and blocks per game (2.8) and is fourth in field goal percentage (.606).

In fact, Oturu’s numbers are comparable to almost any other player in college basketball. He is the only player in Division-I averaging over 20 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. For his statistical output, Oturu has attracted the attention of NBA scouts. The website currently has him being selected No. 8 overall in their 2020 mock draft. However, Oturu’s coach says the draft is a long way away.

“If he has that opportunity at the end of the year, I’m all for it,” said head coach Richard Pitino. “But again, the NBA Draft is not in mid-January. There are so many more opportunities for [Oturu] to show he is one of the best bigs in the country.”

Oturu’s ascension this year has not come by accident. The big man has worked on becoming a more complete player, adding new wrinkles to his game. Compared to last season, Oturu has showed more willingness to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop. He has also incorporated 3-point shooting into his repertoire, shooting 11-33 from beyond the arc in 2019-20 after hoisting only two attempts from long range a year ago.

Playing for his hometown university, Oturu’s teammates credit him not only for his outstanding play. Fellow sophomore Jarvis Omersa says Oturu is an emotional leader who energizes everybody around him, both teammates and fans at The Barn.

“Daniel has the state of Minnesota on his back,” Omersa said. “He knows that and he fights with us. When he has everybody get loud, we hear that as a team.”