With as big of a turnaround as the Gophers men’s basketball team has made so far this season, four-star Cretin-Derham Hall big man Daniel Oturu couldn’t wait any longer to make it official that he wanted to stay home.
Oturu, a 6-9, 220-pound junior, announced Thursday afternoon he intends to play for the Gophers. The verbal commitment came in front of fellow students, friends and family in a packed high school classroom in St. Paul.
“I wanted to be the next one,” Oturu said. “I pride myself a lot on Minnesota, so I felt like I needed to take that next step.”
The Gophers’ surprising 15-4 start paid dividends for coach Richard Pitino, who landed his most high-profile local recruit since signing former Hopkins star Amir Coffey last year.
When Oturu phoned Pitino and assistant coach Ben Johnson on Thursday over the lunch period, “I heard them pretty loud and excited.”
NCAA regulations prohibit coaches from commenting publicly on a recruit until a letter of intent is signed. The earliest Oturu could sign would be in November.
Oturu is ranked No. 1 in the state’s junior class by ESPN.com. He is ranked 76th nationally in 2018 by Rivals.com, 66rd by Scout.com and 63rd by 247Sports.com.
Oturu, who is averaging 18 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks this season, picked the Gophers after also receiving scholarship offers from schools such as Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Georgia Tech and Memphis. Baylor was runner-up.
Oturu’s parents are from Nigeria, but they moved to the U.S. over 20 years ago. Oturu was born in New York, and he has lived in Woodbury and played basketball in Minnesota since the fourth grade.
“He feels supported,” Cretin-Derham Hall coach Jerry Kline Jr. said. “He feels this is the right place for him to make his mark, not only on the community, but the Division I team in the state of Minnesota. He felt a tight bond with Coach Pitino and Coach Johnson. It was really important for him.”
Pitino signed Coffey and Michael Hurt from Rochester John Marshall in Minnesota’s 2016 class. The Gophers failed to land any local prospects in a loaded 2017 class, but Pitino could have up to five scholarships available for a 2018 group that is just as talented at the top.
“Oturu is a really talented power forward prospect,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels said. “I love his long-term upside with his length, athleticism and mobility. Picking him up early is a big deal.”
The Gophers also offered Apple Valley’s Tre Jones, Armstrong’s Race Thompson and DeLaSalle’s Gabe Kalscheur. Jones, Thompson and Oturu are the top three players in the state’s junior class.
“We talked about how we could help this program a lot if we all come here,” Oturu said. “It would mean a lot. Obviously it’s their decision to go. I’ve already made mine.
“I’ve always talked about playing for the U should mean a lot if you’re from here, especially if you have everyone watching you with the U of M on your jersey.”
Oturu, who is a long and athletic shot blocker and rebounder, says it was a factor that he could possibly replace Reggie Lynch at center as a freshman in 2018-19. Lynch will be a senior next season.
“I think I could play there right now,” he said with a smile.
Oturu will be at Williams Arena on Saturday to watch his future program play rival Wisconsin.
Coffey is making a big impact as a freshman for the Gophers this season — and that influenced Oturu’s decision as well.
“[Coffey’s] playing at a high level at the U; it just had a really good impact on my decision,” Oturu said. “He just told me to make the decision I felt was best. He never pressured me to come to the U. He just told me to go with my gut.”