Daniel Oturu hadn't turned 5 years old yet when Gophers forward Kris Humphries was chosen by the Jazz with the 14th pick of the 2004 NBA draft.
More than 16 years later, Oturu is all grown up as a promising 6-10, 240-pound prospect — and he is expected to hear his name called Wednesday night, which would end the Gophers’ drought of not having a player drafted since Humphries.
The former Cretin-Derham Hall star, who averaged 20.3 points and 11.1 rebounds as a Gophers sophomore last season, realizes the significance of not only achieving his dream of becoming an NBA draft pick but also proving that you can stay home to do it.
“You don’t really have to go anywhere else,” Oturu said. “You can stay home and play for the home state program, you can be great. There are a lot of opportunities here. Growing up in Minnesota, I would never have passed this up.”
In the past 10 years, the Gophers and Northwestern are the only two Big Ten teams without a player selected in the NBA draft. On the other end of the spectrum is Michigan with 12. Michigan State and Maryland both have eight draft picks each.
Richard Pitino recruited Oturu and former Hopkins standout Amir Coffey harder than he has any other in-state targets. It paid off with Oturu and Coffey helping lead the Gophers to a first-round NCAA tournament win against Louisville in 2019.
Coffey, who left school as a junior, was the lone Gopher in the NBA last season as a rookie with the Los Angeles Clippers after signing a two-way contract as an undrafted player. Various mock drafts suggest Oturu could be selected anywhere from the bottom of the first round to the middle of the second round.
“The fact that we haven’t had a player drafted in 16 years is a very, very long time,” Gophers coach Pitino said. “Now you look at Daniel is going to get drafted. That’s the growth of the program.”
Oturu earned the scholarship offer he coveted from the home-state program and Pitino after his sophomore year in 2016. Not long after Oturu’s summer shining on the AAU circuit with Howard Pulley, blue bloods blew up Cretin-Derham Hall coach Jerry Kline’s phone about him having a potential pro.
“From his freshman year in high school on, I was always amazed at his ability to improve,” Kline said. “His trajectory was impressive.”
Oturu’s 7-foot-3 wingspan and next-level athleticism easily could have landed him at a college far from home where the path to the NBA is more easily attainable — at say Kansas or Michigan State, programs that had shown interest. That was never part of his plan, though.
Francis and Deborah Oturu, Nigerian immigrants, sacrificed to raise their three children in Minnesota, with better opportunities and strong religious faith at a church they help start in St. Paul.
Oturu’s childhood growing up in Woodbury allowed him to be a fun-loving suburban kid who was popular at school, addicted to video games, but also a die-hard NBA fan with basketball posters of his idols all over his bedroom wall.
“They came here from Nigeria with no money,” Oturu said. “They made something out of nothing. Being able to have my [NBA] dreams come true because of their hard work to make a better life for me and for my other siblings, I hope to have a significant way I could repay them.”
Starring for the Gophers in front of his family and friends is something he’ll always cherish but Oturu left school early this year, because he always saw himself in the NBA one day.
“He’s always wanted this opportunity,” Kline said, “and now it’s staring him in the face.”
Rarely was there a moment the past two years at the Barn when the Oturu family didn’t meet up in the crowd after the game. One dream was accomplished to play for the home-state school — and another is upcoming to hear his name called on draft night. That also would prove that the Gophers once again can produce NBA talent.
“Once you get drafted, though, you have to prove why,” Oturu said. “That’s one goal, but my mind-set is being able to play in this league for multiple years and be a good player.”