Richard Pitino’s all-Minnesota signing day class two years ago of Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Omersa received more buzz than any other recruiting class during his tenure as Gophers basketball coach.
They were Minnesota high school standouts who had success at a high level as AAU teammates. They dreamed of making the home state college basketball program a national contender.
They reached the NCAA tournament’s second round last season as freshmen, but a 1-2 start this year has Pitino searching for a spark entering Friday’s game at Utah. Getting the most out of Oturu, Kalscheur and Omersa might be what the Gophers need right now.
The sophomore trio started together for the first time this season in the second half of Tuesday’s 64-56 loss at Butler. They played well together for stretches.
“It was great,” Omersa said. “I think it will just benefit [us] a lot in the long run.”
Omersa and Kalscheur are still trying to figure out how to contribute in bigger roles. Oturu was a dominant force with 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. The 6-10 former Cretin-Derham Hall standout knew he had to help replace what All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy gave the team in the paint. Oturu is averaging 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds this season.
“I’m the main focus in the frontcourt,” Oturu said. “I’m just trying to work hard, listen to Coach and continue to do what I can to help the team be successful. It’s a really big thing for me to keep getting better.”
Kalscheur, who averaged 10 points and shot 41% from three as a freshman, might be due for a breakout game after scoring below double figures and shooting just 32% from beyond the arc in three games.
Pitino said the former DeLaSalle star is dealing with more attention from opposing defenses. His 24-point performance vs. Louisville in the NCAA tournament made everyone take notice of his shooting.
“He’s going to be on the top of everyone’s scouting report to give no easy looks,” Pitino said. “That’s why it’s very, very important with whatever it is we’re running. If everything else is sound, he’s going to get open looks.”
Omersa, who had no points, four rebounds, two assists and a block vs. Butler, is still trying to gain confidence in his offense and limit foul trouble. He fouled out in 19 minutes Tuesday night, but the 6-7, 235-pounder used his athleticism to fly around defensively and crash the boards.
“I think what I can do is step up my offensive game a little more,” Omersa said. “Take a lot more pressure off Daniel … They can’t box both of us out. I’m too fast and Daniel’s too long.”
Omersa blocked a Butler three-point attempt early in the second half. The Gophers scored on the ensuing possession, as Oturu drew a double team inside and kicked the ball to Kalscheur for a three in the corner. That sequence was an example of them making an impact together.
“How does he turn that effort, that energy and that enthusiasm into production?” Pitino said of Omersa. “He’s going to get more opportunities. I love the energy he’s playing with.”