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After ending Gophers' draft drought, Oturu excited about joining Coffey in NBA

It took a few seconds for Daniel Oturu to react when his name was called Wednesday night as the No. 33 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

His mother, Deborah, immediately stood up and waited for the moment to sink in for her son as he popped off the couch to give her a bear hug. His family ecstatically cheered in the background. 

Just like that his NBA dreams were realized.

Just like that the University of Minnesota’s 16-year draft drought was in the rearview mirror.

Just like that, as the cliché goes, his life was changed forever.

“This is something myself and my family have dreamed of and worked for a long time,” Oturu said Friday. “It’s all by God’s doing. There was a lot of emotion, and I’m very happy.”

Icing on the cake? Maybe it would've been playing for the home state Timberwolves who drafted him. But after being traded to the New York Knicks, he would reunite in the NBA with his former Gophers teammate Amir Coffey, who had a promising rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers last season.

Coffey and Oturu last teamed up in 2018-19 to lead Richard Pitino’s Gophers to the NCAA tournament second round. Coffey went undrafted after leaving after his junior year, but he signed a two-way contract with the Clippers.

“I’m really excited to be on the same team with Amir again,” Oturu, an All-American sophomore center last season, said. “We’ve talked a little bit and are both excited to see each other again. I’m thankful for this opportunity and I can’t wait to get out there.”

Coffey’s enthusiasm for Oturu joining him in Los Angeles didn’t wear off at all early the next morning. “That’s awesome and a great story right there,” he told the Star Tribune in a text message. “Proud of him and happy we get to share the court together again.”

Oturu and Coffey represent the only two Gophers currently in the NBA. Until Wednesday night, Kris Humphries was the last U player drafted in 2004. The one thing they all have in common: they’re Minnesota natives, products of Cretin-Derham Hall and Hopkins, respectively.

It’s not lost on Oturu the significance of he and Coffey getting to the next level after staying home to play for the Gophers. Pitino has been criticized for not landing enough local talent, which included three other Minnesotans creating a historic draft for the state. Duke’s Tre Jones, Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji and Stanford’s Tyrell Terry were all selected as well.

“[Coffey’s] a guy who played high school basketball here and represented the state of Minnesota [in college],” Oturu said. “I kind of took a similar route and we ended up on the same team together. It’s something really special I think, especially not only for us but our college program. To have two local guys in the NBA that went through the U of M. Being able to achieve the level of success we both have so far has been important for our community and the U of M.”

The Clippers, who became instant NBA title contenders with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last season, put Coffey on their playoff roster in the bubble. Even though their hopes for a postseason run were cut short, Oturu feels like the sky’s the limit for them next season.

“I think this team is built to compete for a championship,” Oturu said. “I’m excited to step into this unique opportunity to fight for a ring my first year in the league with these guys. There are a lot of expectations for this team.”

NDSU expected to play Gophers men at The Barn later this month

The Gophers men’s basketball team announced its 2020-21 schedule Wednesday, but there were two non-league games missing. Those games appear to be set for later this month. 

Minnesota’s multi-team event is expected to be against Loyola Marymount and North Dakota State on Nov. 28 and Nov. 30 at Williams Arena. The Bison and LMU have announced games on those dates, but the Gophers are still working out some logistics before the MTE's official on their end.

Eastern Washington was initially scheduled to play the Gophers and LMU but backed out due to travel concerns during the pandemic, sources told the Star Tribune on Wednesday.

Richard Pitino’s team opens the season next Wednesday against Wisconsin-Green Bay at the Barn. All seven of the U's nonconference games will be at home, including against North Dakota (Dec. 4), Boston College (Dec. 8), Missouri-Kansas City (Dec. 10) and Saint Louis (Dec. 20).

The Gophers' 20-game Big Ten schedule released Wednesday includes a grueling opening stretch, starting with games next month at Illinois (Dec. 15), against Iowa (Dec. 25) and Michigan State at home (Dec. 28) and at Wisconsin (Dec. 31).

After a 15-16 finish last season, Pitino is expected to have a Gophers team that can compete for an upper-half finish in the Big Ten behind junior point guard Marcus Carr, who was named Thursday to the Naismith Award preseason watch list for the top player in college basketball.

The Bison went 25-8 and won the Summit League regular season and conference tournament title last season. They were picked to finish third in the Summit League preseason poll this fall.

Seventh-year NDSU coach David Richman lost leading scorer and former Hopkins guard Vinnie Shahid (18.4 points per game) to graduation. But another Minnesota native leads the way with 6-foot-10 senior center Rocky Kreuser (10 ppg and 6.0 rpg) last season. Kreuser played high school basketball and football at Totino-Grace. Sophomore guard Jarius Cook (Park Center) and sophomore forward Odell Wilson (Minneapolis North) are also among five Minnesotans on the roster with the Bison.