Daniel Oturu remembers the tough loss for his Howard Pulley team to end the Nike EYBL season last July in the Peach Jam.
MoKan Elite led by McDonalds All-Americans Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young eventually was too much for Pulley’s Gary Trent Jr. and company.
“Still have that bad taste from last season’s Peach Jam,” the Cretin-Derham Hall big man said this spring. “So we’re just trying to work hard towards where we want to be (this year).”
Oturu, a Gophers recruit in the 2018 class, starts his Nike EYBL season off with Howard Pulley 8 p.m. Friday against City Rocks (N.Y.) in Hampton, Va. The Panthers play two games Saturday against California Supreme and Mac Irvin Fire (Ill.).
Gophers coach Richard Pitino and assistants Ben Johnson and Kimani Young will be watching Oturu and his Pulley teammates in Hampton to start the open recruiting period. Apple Valley guard Tre Jones and DeLaSalle guard Gabe Kalscheur, who were offered scholarships by Minnesota, were both also with Pulley last season. Orono’s Jarvis Thomas joined Pulley this year and has interest from Minnesota.
A year ago, Oturu played in the EYBL for the first time. That experience helped boost his confidence going into his junior season. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Oturu averaged 18.6 points, 14.6 rebounds and 5.8 blocks to earn All-Metro second team honors.
“At the end of last year and playing on the circuit in the EYBL against the top players in the country just really help my game,” he said. "Knowing that if I can do these kinds of things against those players I can for sure come back to Minnesota and do it.”
Jones is currently rated as the top player in the state’s 2018 class. Oturu is right behind him. Armstrong’s Race Thompson, Kalscheur, Thomas and Esko’s Adam Trapp make the class one of the strongest in recent years. Oturu considers many of the top players his friends, but he still hopes to eventually be the best out of the group.
“My motivation is to outwork the next person and try to be the best I can be,” he said. “Also show the younger people playing basketball (for the Gophers) is a good thing, playing it the right way.”
The Gophers going from eight to 24 wins and reaching the NCAA tournament this season impressed Oturu, but it wasn’t just “the growth” during the one-year turnaround.
“It means a lot to see my future team and my future school playing really well,” he said. “I’m excited to get there to pick up where they left off and just continue to win. They only won eight games the year before but the players there believed they could have a really good season and they did it. That just shows if you work hard and believe in yourself and your coaches good things will come out of it.”
Pulley and D1 Minnesota are the top two AAU teams in the state. Thompson and Rochester John Marshall forward Matthew Hurt, the state’s top sophomore, play for D1 Minnesota, which is opening the Adidas Uprising schedule Saturday and Sunday in Dallas.
The New Heights AAU program in New York is playing in its backyard to begin Under Armour Association play Friday and Saturday. New Heights is the same team formally run by Young, who landed incoming freshman Isaiah Washington from the same club. The Gophers are recruiting current New Heights 6-11 center Moses Brown, one of the top players in the Class of 2018.
Grassroots Sizzle AAU program is also playing in the Under Armour event in New York, which is led by the state of Minnesota’s top 2020 player Jalen Suggs from Minnehaha Academy.