Two weekends ago, Eric Curry was so excited to play in his first game in more than a year that he ran to midcourt for the opening tip prematurely while his Gophers men’s basketball teammates were huddling on the sidelines.
“I was very anxious to get back on the court,” Curry said Sunday, recalling the funny moment at the start of an Oct. 20 scrimmage at Creighton. “It was just an amazing moment.”
A similar moment now could play out in late November or early December. On Monday, coach Richard Pitino announced Curry had another surgery on his left knee Monday and will be out four to six weeks. Curry suffered the original left-knee injury in August 2017, tearing multiple ligaments and his meniscus.
“Unfortunately his knee is stubborn but Eric is relentless,” Curry’s mother, Audrea, wrote on Twitter. “Some nasty cartilage was removed this morning and hopefully no more swelling or issues.”
The 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore big man was fully cleared Oct. 20 and played 20 minutes in the private scrimmage that day in Omaha. The significant part of his return wasn’t just the playing time, but the fact he was in the starting lineup alongside All-Big Ten senior Jordan Murphy in the frontcourt.
“Huge blow for our team,” Pitino wrote in his blog Monday. “Feel so bad for Eric because he worked so hard to get back. He has to keep the faith and stay positive.”
With Curry expected to miss at least the first six games this season — his earliest return would seem to be Nov. 30 vs. Oklahoma State at U.S. Bank Stadium — the Gophers likely will start freshman Daniel Oturu in his place. The Gophers play Minnesota Duluth in an exhibition Thursday, and then Nebraska Omaha for their season opener Nov. 6.
“[Oturu is] going to be thrust into a bigger role while Eric is out,” Pitino blogged. “We need him to be ready!”
Oturu was out with his own injury following shoulder surgery in April, but he has been establishing himself as a potential force in the paint in practices and scrimmages since being cleared early this month.
“A guy like Daniel, if he wants to play at the next level, he needs to be a great ball screen [defense] guy,” Pitino said. “He needs to be able to roll to the rim, sprint the court and duck in early. Play post defense. That’s so valuable for him, because he’s got all the tools — he’s got all the talent to do it.”
In his first test, the 6-10 Cretin-Derham Hall product had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks in only 15 minutes off the bench in the scrimmage victory at Creighton.
“I’m ready to do whatever I need to do to help my team win,” Oturu said Sunday. “I think I got a lot out of [playing Creighton]. I got a glimpse of what I can really do at the college level. Even though I didn’t play that much I felt like I did really good in the minutes I was dealt. It gave me an eye-opener that I could be really good at this.”
Oturu and 7-foot senior Matz Stockman really opened some eyes in Sunday’s Maroon and Gold scrimmage at Williams Arena. They both played nearly 23 minutes with Curry out — combining unofficially for 35 points and 14 rebounds. Oturu also blocked four shots.
Saturday, Curry had some swelling in his knee, and a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed damaged cartilage that needed to be removed with an arthroscopic procedure Monday morning. Curry’s mother tweeted she was hopeful her son would be “good to go” by Big Ten play in early December.
“We need him back healthy and better than ever,” Pitino wrote of Curry. “It’s going to be a very challenging November without him. Everyone else is going to have to step up.”