If you tuned in to ESPNU over the weekend, Gophers commit Daniel Oturu could be seen playing for five-time NBA champion Ron Harper's team in the championship game of the Nike Skills Academy in Los Angeles.
The 6-foot-10 senior at Cretin-Derham Hall showed flashes of his potential competing against some of the top players in the country, including his Howard Pulley AAU teammate Tre Jones. Gophers sophomore guard Amir Coffey was also in attendance with other college players.
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune, Oturu talked about his experience during the five days at the Nike camp, which included meeting his favorite player Kobe Bryant and learning post skills from Rasheed Wallace.
Q: What did you think about being with Kobe, LeBron James and Kevin Durant last week?
A: That was pretty cool. But the highlight was meeting Kobe. Definitely him. We all spent more time with Kobe than LeBron and KD. He talked to us about how to build your brand, staying focused on your goals. He gave us many examples that were really cool. First time I met him. He’s a serious person about what he wants to do. I don’t really meet a lot of people who are as serious as him. He’s very dynamic. He’s very serious about what we wants to do, even if it’s not basketball related. You can tell that he’s a competitive person. I’ve always been a Kobe fan. I think Kobe is the greatest player of all-time.
Q: You think Kobe is even better than Michael Jordan? Did you tell him that?
A: I do. Yeah I told him. He just said, “Thank you.”
Q: When did you see fellow Minnesotans Tre Jones and Amir Coffey at the camp?
A: We saw each other every day. We weren’t on the same team, but we still had good conversations with each other and had lunch. We were all together with college and high school guys, so it was pretty cool.
Q: Did you get to talk to Coffey about playing with the Gophers in the future?
A: Yeah. Amir and I, our relationship was able to get a lot better. We’ve always been good friends, but I felt like it’s even better now. He’s excited I’m coming. He’s said just get ready to work. I asked him I hope he’s still there by the time I get there (in 2018-19). He said he doesn’t know (laughs).
Q: Were you able to watch Coffey play against the rest of the college participants?
A: When we weren’t playing I got to watch. He’s gotten a lot better. I feel like he is going to kill this season. I’m excited to watch him.
Q: What was it like working with some of the former NBA players?
A: It was probably the best basketball experience I’ve had in a while. Just learning from players like Rasheed Wallace, Gary Payton and Ron Harper, guys who have done it before. They know what it takes to get to that level. It was just good to learn from them.
Q: What did you learn from Rasheed Wallace as a big man?
A: It was great learning from him, because we’re almost like the same (size). He’s one of the best big men to play. It was great learning from someone like him. Working with him on my jump shot all week really helped open up my game a lot more. He taught me a lot of new post moves and stuff to get defenders off me. He showed me moves to get defenders off me and more clean shots and open shots.
Q: You were on Ron Harper’s team. What was that experience like?
A: He really likes my game. He said I do a lot of good stuff on the court, and he told me things that I need to work on. He kept it real with me. He said he likes that I never take a play off, that I hustle and I like to rebound a lot.
Q: What will you take from that whole Nike experience that you can bring back for your senior season?
A: What I got is being able to play well against the best players in the country. Coming back to Minnesota, no disrespect, but the talent level (overall) isn’t like the EYBL. There you’re playing against guys who will be in the NBA a year from now. Playing against that high talent level makes it easier to come back and dominate.
Q: So you think you can be the most dominant big man in the state this season?
A: Yeah. I had a lot of big games the last time I played (averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds for Cretin in four games in the Pacesetter Sweet 16 in early August). That’s kind of what I’m looking to do this year. Obviously, it’s not all about scoring. But I just want to be able to make my mark.
Q: In the Nike Academy championship game on ESPN you played well defensively, but got blocked a few times. What did you take from that game offensively?
A: I think of it as a learning experience. I know one move I got blocked, and if I used my left hand I would’ve scored. I came down the next time and I used my left hand and it worked. Another time, I should’ve used my pump fakes a lot more to get the defender off his feet.
Q: I saw that you weighed 224 pounds at the Nike Academy. How much was getting bigger and stronger an emphasis this summer?
A: I wanted to get better also off the court in the weight room. I need to do what I need to be physically ready to play in the Big Ten. I would say I gained about 11-12 pounds. I feel heavier but I still have that same athleticism. That’s the key to put on weight but still jump as high as before.
Q: What do you think of the Gophers 2018 recruiting class? There still could be one more solid piece.
A: It’s good to see a future goal and plan coming to fruition. Just to see what you want happen – for people to come with you and come together for a common goal (help home state program win) was good. I’m excited about the class as a whole and to see who joins us with that last scholarship.
Q: School starts for you next week. How would you describe your final summer playing AAU basketball?
A: This summer was amazing. Just being able to play with my teammates one more time was cool. I’m going to be with Gabe (Kalscheur) and Jarvis (Thomas) playing at the U in a year. So that’s also cool. Playing with Tre for the last time was great. He’s one of my good friends. I wish him the best at Duke. I know he’s going to be successful. It was just a fun season. My coaches really made it great, too. My coaches (Antwan Harris and Deidrick Jenkins). Doing things with my high school team this summer was fun, too. We know we have to take care of business this year. Anything less than a state championship is a disappointment. That’s our (seniors’) mentality going into our last season. The summer was good. I had fun and got a lot better.