It took a few seconds for Daniel Oturu to react when his name was called Wednesday night as the No. 33 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
His mother, Deborah, immediately stood up and waited for the moment to sink in for her son as he popped off the couch to give her a bear hug. His family ecstatically cheered in the background.
Just like that his NBA dreams were realized.
Just like that the University of Minnesota’s 16-year draft drought was in the rearview mirror.
Just like that, as the cliché goes, his life was changed forever.
“This is something myself and my family have dreamed of and worked for a long time,” Oturu said Friday. “It’s all by God’s doing. There was a lot of emotion, and I’m very happy.”
Icing on the cake? Maybe it would've been playing for the home state Timberwolves who drafted him. But after being traded to the New York Knicks, he would reunite in the NBA with his former Gophers teammate Amir Coffey, who had a promising rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers last season.
Coffey and Oturu last teamed up in 2018-19 to lead Richard Pitino’s Gophers to the NCAA tournament second round. Coffey went undrafted after leaving after his junior year, but he signed a two-way contract with the Clippers.
“I’m really excited to be on the same team with Amir again,” Oturu, an All-American sophomore center last season, said. “We’ve talked a little bit and are both excited to see each other again. I’m thankful for this opportunity and I can’t wait to get out there.”
Coffey’s enthusiasm for Oturu joining him in Los Angeles didn’t wear off at all early the next morning. “That’s awesome and a great story right there,” he told the Star Tribune in a text message. “Proud of him and happy we get to share the court together again.”
Oturu and Coffey represent the only two Gophers currently in the NBA. Until Wednesday night, Kris Humphries was the last U player drafted in 2004. The one thing they all have in common: they’re Minnesota natives, products of Cretin-Derham Hall and Hopkins, respectively.
It’s not lost on Oturu the significance of he and Coffey getting to the next level after staying home to play for the Gophers. Pitino has been criticized for not landing enough local talent, which included three other Minnesotans creating a historic draft for the state. Duke’s Tre Jones, Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji and Stanford’s Tyrell Terry were all selected as well.
“[Coffey’s] a guy who played high school basketball here and represented the state of Minnesota [in college],” Oturu said. “I kind of took a similar route and we ended up on the same team together. It’s something really special I think, especially not only for us but our college program. To have two local guys in the NBA that went through the U of M. Being able to achieve the level of success we both have so far has been important for our community and the U of M.”
The Clippers, who became instant NBA title contenders with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last season, put Coffey on their playoff roster in the bubble. Even though their hopes for a postseason run were cut short, Oturu feels like the sky’s the limit for them next season.
“I think this team is built to compete for a championship,” Oturu said. “I’m excited to step into this unique opportunity to fight for a ring my first year in the league with these guys. There are a lot of expectations for this team.”