Despite not being cleared for summer practice yet, Gophers top incoming recruit and freshman center Daniel Oturu showed signs last week that he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Last Wednesday, fellow freshman Gabe Kalscheur posted a video on his Instagram of Oturu throwing down an emphatic dunk at the U’s Athletes Village court. It was the same right shoulder he had surgery on.
So it certainly looks like he's back.
Team doctors, though, are expected to clear Oturu in a couple weeks, Pitino said recently. Improving steadily after reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder in April, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound Cretin-Derham Hall product should be ready once players return for the fall semester in late August.
“He's chomping at the bit,” Pitino said of Oturu. “He thinks he's ready to go, but I put that in the hands of the (doctors). He's excited.”
For the third straight year, Pitino headlined his Gophers recruiting class with a top-50 recruit. First it was Amir Coffey, followed by Isaiah Washington last year. Now Oturu is entering his freshman year with expectations to make an immediate impact.
Ranked as high as the 37th best player in the 2018 class, Oturu was listed as one of the top 15 freshmen entering the Big Ten by CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein on Twitter this week.
Oturu was arguably the most dominant post presence in Minnesota high school basketball last season. The Raiders’ swat machine led the state with 6.1 blocks per game, but also averaged over 18 points and 11 rebounds. He won the Class 4A state title with a buzzer-beating alley-oop dunk against Apple Valley.
So what might his role be as a freshman next season?
It's too early to tell if Oturu will be the team’s starter in the middle or first post off the bench. Still, Pitino called him an NBA prospect capable of having as big an impact as any freshman in the Big Ten this season. Oturu's the only true center on the roster after 7-foot senior Matz Stockman transferred to Cal this summer.
“Daniel in my opinion is one of the best big guys in the country,” Pitino said. “I think it’ll take time. But he’s got the talent to do it. That’s the most important thing. And he really understands how to play. I think if you watch that last game, the state finals game, he played great. And it was a really good game … it brought the most out of Daniel.”
Oturu’s length (7-2 wingspan) is similar to former Gopher Reggie Lynch, who was the Big Ten defensive player of the year when he broke the school’s single-season shot-blocking record with 114 in 2016-17.
Second all-time in state history in blocks behind former Gopher and NBA center Joel Przybilla’s 694, Oturu finished his high school career with 575 swats.
Before arriving on campus, Oturu talked about wanting to be a defensive presence like Lynch, but he also hopes to show the Gophers he can do a lot more than just protect the rim as a freshman.
“I feel like that will help us a lot next year,” he said in the spring. “I feel like I bring a different type of player. My mentality and the way I play the game is so different from the big men they (had) and what they did. I feel like I’m more of a scorer. I can score and also play defense and rebound. I feel like that will help us out next year.”
Pitino's freshman class this season (including Kalscheur and Orono’s Jarvis Omersa) has a chance to be his best yet, but Oturu should lead that group once he’s fully healthy sooner than later.
“I want to just show everybody what I can do and help my team win,” Oturu said. “I want to be an X-factor. I want to be able to turn my program around.”