The Gophers lost their top big man Daniel Oturu to the NBA Draft this year, but they are expecting to get back their most experienced frontcourt player this season.

Richard Pitino said on Tuesday’s conference call that redshirt senior Eric Curry will be available to play in the season opener after recovering from a season-ending knee injury last year.

The Gophers are expecting to open Nov. 25 against Wisconsin-Green Bay at Williams Arena.

“If we had a game today he’d play,” Pitino said. “He’s always been a good leader, but the challenging part has been staying on the court. We look better when he’s out there. He makes me look like a better coach. He does the right things. He just understands how to play.”

Curry, a newly-named captain with junior guards Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur, supported his teammates and coaches from the bench last season.

The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Memphis native mentored Oturu, who had a breakout All-America season as a sophomore and will likely get picked in Wednesday’s NBA draft. Curry’s experience should help the Gophers' new starting center Liam Robbins, a 7-foot transfer from Drake.

The U's young contigent of big men also could benefit from Curry's knowledge as well, including 6-10 sophomore Sam Freeman, 6-9 sophomore Isaiah Ihnen and 6-10 freshman Martice Mitchell.  

"The older you can stay the better you're always going to be," Pitino said. "To have Eric healthy is very, very important to our team."

Since last October, Curry worked diligently to recover from his second torn anterior cruciate ligament. He was expected to be a valuable backup at both frontcourt positions last year before suffering a right knee injury in a preseason practice. A year later, he was excited to get back on the court with the team when practice opened this fall.

"I’m feeling pretty good," Curry said in September. "I’ve just been doing some normal shooting things and ball handling things. I think this is the best I’ve felt since I had the surgery. Hopefully, I’m good to go by the time the season rolls around."

Curry averaged 5.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists for the Gophers in 49 career games, including seven starts. He’s the only player left on the current roster who played on Minnesota's NCAA tournament team in 2017.

The last time Curry saw the floor was during the 2018-19 season when he played in 15 games. But he missed the first 12 games following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He also missed the final seven games to repair a torn ligament in his right foot.

Curry’s original left-knee injury was three years ago, when he missed the 2017-18 season after tearing multiple ligaments and his meniscus. At one time, he was the next in line to take over as the Gophers' top frontcourt star. 

And now Curry's healthy return could be crucial to helping Pitino and the Gophers replace Oturu's inside presence.