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Prep stars Oturu and Thomas: Great Gophers frontcourt of the future?

Daniel Oturu and Jarvis Thomas were one of the most athletic frontcourts in all of AAU basketball this summer for Howard Pulley.

And now that they’re both future Gophers, fans can imagine how exciting it will be to see them wreak havoc in the paint at the Barn in the coming years.

Oturu, a 6-foot-10 senior center, is a top-40 recruit nationally in 2018. The Cretin-Derham Hall product committed to Richard Pitino earlier this year, marking one of the most impressive recruiting triumphs for the U locally, considering Oturu had a Kansas scholarship offer.

The 6-8, 220-pound Thomas, a top-150 senior prospect, announced his decision to play for Minnesota on Tuesday. The Orono standout was one of the biggest surprise in the Nike EYBL this year – and arguably the most explosive leaper in the country.

“Our frontcourt will be a really athletic frontcourt,” Oturu said about when he and Thomas play for Minnesota together. “He’s just an athletic big that brings a lot of energy. He’s just an outstanding athlete. It’s great to have him in the frontcourt with me. We complement each other’s game very well. He’s fun to play with.”

Oturu’s potential might be the highest for a Gophers center out of high school since Joel Przybilla came to the U in 1998.

“I think Daniel Oturu is going to be a really good player,” said Evan Daniels, Scout.com’s director of basketball recruiting. “I like him as a prospect. I think he has a lot of upside. I think his best basketball days are ahead of him. He’s mobile. He’s long. He’s athletic. He goes to the glass and rebounds. He contests shots. That was a pretty significant pickup for Richard Pitino to get a guy like him early.”

Oturu and Thomas could be still growing, even after adding a couple inches in the past year. There’s no doubt they will also both get much bigger and stronger before college. Thomas is still just 16.

Thomas’ off-the-chart athleticism stands out more than anything. But playing consistently with a high motor is what allowed him to make an even greater impact this summer, Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi said.

“He’s always been athletic,” Bossi said. “He always had a motor. But it was an inconsistent one. Hot and cold. Never knew what you were going to get. But now I think he’s become more reliable. And you know the effort is more often than not going to be there. He’s finding different ways to be productive on top of just playing hard.”

Oturu said he follows Gophers center and Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch’s game very closely. He hopes to even surpass Lynch’s school block records one day. If Oturu projects to be a lot like Lynch, Thomas’ game resembles forward Jordan Murphy, who earned All-Big Ten honors last season.

“You got a guy who can hopefully get in a year of experience and then help replace Jordan Murphy,” Bossi said of Thomas. “He doesn’t have quite the skill Jordan Murphy had as a scorer in high school. He’s got the same size. He’s a volume rebounder like Jordan Murphy, and he’s just such a freakish athlete with such a great motor. He projects to be a good player at the next level.”

When Oturu and Thomas join the Gophers in 2018-19, Pitino will have lost Lynch and fellow senior big men Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou. But Minnesota should return Murphy, Davonte Fitzgerald and Eric Curry in the frontcourt. Louisville 7-foot transfer Matz Stockman would also be eligible after sitting out this season.

There's a possibility that Pitino could add another big man in the 2018 class as a potential redshirt candidate as a freshman the following year. The Gophers will look at 6-11 Hopkins big man Joe Hedstrom for the second straight week in the local Adidas tournament over the weekend.

But whatever their role is as freshmen, it will definitely be a dream come true for Thomas and Oturu to be playing together for the home state program in college.

“When he first got the Gopher offer in June, I just got a different type of energy,” Oturu said. “I felt like he was going to come. I felt like that offer meant a lot to him. I knew something special could happen.”

Armstrong's Thompson chooses Indiana; Orono forward Thomas announcing Tuesday

One of the fastest rising prospects in Minnesota this year, Orono senior forward Jarvis Thomas will be announcing his college decision 6 p.m. Tuesday night at his high school, Thomas tweeted Sunday afternoon.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Thomas hasn’t cut his list down recently, but the Gophers are believed to be the favorite to land him. Thomas, who also has scholarship offers from Wake Forest, Marquette, Iowa State and Arizona State, is already an AAU teammate of University of Minnesota big man commit Daniel Oturu with the Howard Pulley Panthers. 

Richard Pitino and his staff followed Howard Pulley (along with 2018 guards Tre Jones and Gabe Kalscheur) in the Nike Peach Jam Championships in South Carolina this week.

Armstrong's Race Thompson, the son of Gophers football great Darrell Thompson, announced his decision Sunday on Twitter to play for Indiana, which could be a sign the Gophers are landing Thomas in the 2018 class. 

Although reports are that Thompson will try to reclassify to the 2017 class and redshirt for the 2017-18 season.

Thomas and Thompson, former D1 Minnesota AAU teammates last year, have different strengths to their game, but they are both projected to play power forward at the next level.

Thompson is a skilled offensive player. Thomas is a high-energy, explosive athlete capable of defending multiple positions. 

Videos of Thomas’ emphatic dunks, alley-oop slams and putbacks have gone viral all over social media this spring and summer. He averaged 7.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks during the Nike EYBL regular season.

Oturu and Thomas were one of the most athletic frontcourts in the Nike EYBL. They both excel at blocking shots, crashing the offensive boards and finishing above the rim.  

Thomas isn’t limited to just dunking, though. On a recent unofficial visit last month, Thomas said Pitino praised his toughness, versatility, ability to run the floor and defend all five positions.

Pitino compared Thomas to current Gophers starting power forward Jordan Murphy, who earned All-Big Ten third-team honors last season as a sophomore.

The Gophers haven’t signed a Minnesota native since landing Amir Coffey and Michael Hurt in the 2016 recruiting class. They failed to get any in-state prospects in 201 7 after offering six players, but Pitino’s big turnaround last season to reach the NCAA tournament has made a strong impression with top local talent.

Oturu and Thomas would give the Gophers two of the state’s top five players in the 2018 class. The No. 1 senior in Minnesota is Apple Valley’s point guard Jones, who is still considering the Gophers along with Duke, UCLA and other programs. Kalscheur, a shooting guard from DeLaSalle, could be favoring the Gophers but his timetable is uncertain.

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