When practice opened for the season last week, Daniel Oturu was cleared by the Gophers for limited contact drills for the first time. The talented 6-foot-10 freshman had not scrimmaged against his teammates at that point after having reconstructive shoulder surgery in April.
As you can imagine, Oturu had to be eased into things, but there is no limit to what he can do now.
A source confirmed to the Star Tribune the news Friday that Pitino told CBSSports’ Jon Rothstein about Oturu being fully cleared for all basketball related activities.
Earlier this week, Pitino said Oturu was progressing doing full contact after being held out of that during his recovery this summer. The elite shot blocker from Cretin-Derham Hall is expected to compete for the starting center spot with redshirt sophomore Eric Curry.
“It’s not the same when you’re not doing full contact,” Pitino said. “So it’s very important physically and mentally to get live reps, but also for us being patient. He’s a freshman, so they’re all going to make mistakes. It’s important to learn where he can be offensively and defensively to where he can get to the point where he can play freely and not think so much.”
Oturu and 7-foot senior Matz Stockman both played with the starters during a scrimmage last Tuesday. Curry was sidelined with a calf strain, but Pitino said he was doing non-contact work this week.
With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Oturu should be an immediate rim protector for the Gophers, who clearly lacked an inside defensive presence after senior Reggie Lynch’s suspension last season. They dropped from a Big Ten-leading 6.79 blocks per game in 2016-17 to ranking 10th in conference games with just 3.4 per game.
In the spring, Oturu expressed confidence he could bring a defensive mentality to the Gophers as a freshman, but he wanted to show them he could provide a lot more than the U centers in the past.
“I feel like I bring a different type of player,” he said. “My mentality and the way I play the game is so different from the big men they (had) and what they did. I feel like I’m more of a scorer. I can score and also play defense and rebound. I feel like that will help us out next year.”
The last time Minnesota fans saw Oturu he dunked an alley-oop to win the Class 4A state title for Cretin-Derham Hall over Apple Valley. He will make his Gophers debut at Williams Arena in the Maroon and Gold scrimmage Oct. 28 at 3 p.m.