Freshman Oturu looks to play big role for Gophers

The Woodbury, Minnesota native headlines an exciting freshman class.

Center Daniel Oturu drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Thursday, Nov. 1. The Gophers defeated the Bulldogs 109-53.

Image by Jack Rodgers

Center Daniel Oturu drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Thursday, Nov. 1. The Gophers defeated the Bulldogs 109-53.

by Nick Jungheim

There was not much doubt Daniel Oturu could contribute to Minnesota. 

The only question was, would the four-star recruit from Cretin-Derham Hall be standing at the center of Williams Arena to take the tip-off for the team’s opening game against Nebraska-Omaha? The answer turned out to be yes. 

However, the starting spot was not initially his. Redshirt sophomore Eric Curry was slated to return from a left-knee injury that cost him the entire 2017-18 season. However, Curry had surgery on that same knee last week due to inflammation. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Curry’s absence left the door open for Oturu as Minnesota’s next option. Even though he’s inexperienced at the college level, head coach Richard Pitino is not worried about him in the starting lineup.

“I thought we got a really, really good player when we signed [Oturu],” Pitino said. “He can score the basketball, he can block shots. In my opinion, right now — and it’s early — he’s been very, very impressive.”

Oturu is part of a freshman class that features three highly-ranked recruits from Minnesota. Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa played AAU ball together for Howard Pulley. They all felt a sense of pride staying in-state to play college basketball for the Gophers.

“We all came here because we wanted to wear this across our chest,” Oturu said, pointing to the word “Minnesota” on his jersey. “Even though we had a tough season last year. That’s another factor that played into our decision, just trying to show Gopher fans that we’re here to help and try to make our program keep moving forward.”

Part of Minnesota’s struggles last season were due to a lack of depth in the front court.  After Reggie Lynch was dismissed from the team in January, Jordan Murphy had little help from the team’s other forwards. Murphy is now a senior, and with Oturu on the team, Murphy feels he has another contributor.

“I definitely see some similarities between him and [Lynch] as far as shot-blocking goes,” Murphy said of Oturu. “Just the way that they time things and are able to sniff out blocks is kind of similar. Offensively, I think he’s a really talented kid. He has a lot of moves and [is] obviously very skilled.”

In Oturu’s first start against Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday, he made five of seven field goals, finishing with 14 points. He added eight rebounds, five of which were offensive. Kalscheur started and Omersa played 15 minutes off the bench, each contributing eight points to the Gophers’ 104-76 victory.

“I don’t think you can take those three guys lightly,”  Pitino said. “They chose this school all for similar reasons. They just wanted to play for the name of the front of the jersey. They’re really good ambassadors in recruiting. So, those three guys have been terrific so far.”

The 6-foot, 10-inch Oturu hopes to emulate the success he had in high school at the college level.  Last year, he led Cretin-Derham Hall to the Minnesota AAAA state high school title. He slammed in a game-winning dunk at the buzzer to defeat Apple Valley High School, a team led by another Howard Pulley teammate and current Duke freshman Tre Jones.  

With a deeper rotation in the front court, Oturu is confident he can show immediate improvement over last season’s team.

“Me, Jarvis [Omersa], [Murphy], Matz [Stockman], we’re all able to play versatile basketball,” Oturu said. “Not to knock the [forwards] from last year, but I feel like we bring a lot more to the table with the type of team we have this year.”

Oturu and the Gophers play their next game against Utah on November 12, at 8:00 p.m. at Williams Arena.