Starting center Daniel Oturu has been a dominant post presence for the Gophers this season, but he was humbled in Tuesday’s practice by one of his teammates.
Backup center and fellow sophomore Jarvis Omersa “kicked my [butt],” Oturu said.
“He pushes me a lot in practice,” the 6-foot-10 Oturu said. “He got after it with me. So, that part of being able to go against someone like him in practice is really good. Because he brings it every day in practice. He plays so hard.”
Omersa, a 6-7, 235-pound Orono product, was motivated coming off his career-high 11 points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s 79-56 win against North Dakota. His contribution off the bench helped the Gophers stay in control when Oturu was in foul trouble.
“It’s probably my best game as a Gopher for sure,” said Omersa, who is averaging 3.5 points and 3.3 rebounds entering Friday’s game against DePaul.
Before last weekend, Omersa’s best game with the Gophers was arguably against Michigan State in the NCAA tournament second round loss in Des Moines last season. He wasn’t much of a scoring threat, but he finished with seven rebounds and three steals against the Spartans.
“I felt like that was a really good boost for the mental aspect of the game, because Michigan State was obviously a Final Four team,” Oturu said. “So for him to come in and play that well in that type of atmosphere was a good thing.”
How did Omersa use that Michigan State game going into this season?
“It’s just motivation,” Omersa said. “For me that was kind of like showing people I can play.”
Richard Pitino has never questioned Omersa’s energy and effort. There wasn’t much playing time for him behind seniors Jordan Murphy and Matz Stockman as a freshman last season, but Omersa stood out as the "hype man" on the bench cheering his teammates on.
Pitino is searching for more frontcourt depth this year, though, especially with junior Eric Curry’s season-ending knee injury.
Senior Alihan Demir regained his starting spot after Omersa replaced him in the loss at Utah on Nov. 15. Pitino hopes Omersa coming off the bench can continue to provide a spark for the Gophers in a big game on Friday.
“He plays so hard,” Pitino said. “He never gets tired. It’s now a matter of how he can produce. What can he do? Obviously, last game he showed that production. Hopefully, he can parlay that into some momentum moving forward.”
The Gophers are a different team when Omersa is crashing the boards relentlessly, contesting shots without fouling and finishing strong with crowd-pleasing dunks. He tells teammates to throw the ball sooner on alley-oops, because it’s more about timing than how high.
Omersa showed off that 44-inch max vertical leap with a two-handed slam with his head close to the rim against North Dakota.
Could that game and his success against Oturu in practice this week be a sign of things to come?
“I was making some decent moves,” Omersa said. “I guess I just like to turn it up a little bit, or a lot when we’re playing, whether it’s practice or in a game.”