Daniel Oturu's message to Minnesota prep stars: 'Come to the U'

Gophers sophomore Daniel Oturu celebrates near the end of Minnesota's 75-69 win over Penn State Wednesday night at Williams Arena. Oturu finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds. ((credit: University of Minnesota))

University of Minnesota sophomore Daniel Oturu had a clear message for Minnesota’s top high school prospects last week before the Gophers beat Nebraska 107-75 on Senior Day at Williams Arena: “Come to the U.”

Oturu, a Woodbury native and Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, admitted his bias last Friday. He can’t fathom that high school basketball players in the state would want to play anywhere other than for Richard Pitino and the Gophers.

He wasn’t the first Minnesota native to commit to staying home and playing for the Gophers, but he’s certainly among the most passionate. Oturu, if not for Iowa’s Luka Garza, would be the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year and could leave the Gophers after this season to test the NBA Draft process. Regardless of what the future holds, he values wearing Minnesota across his chest and wants other local kids to do the same.

Minnesota has some of the best high school talent in the country, and it can be a top program if kids stay home. So far this year, Jalen Suggs is headed to Gonzaga, Dawson Garcia is going to Marquette, Dain Dainja is going to Baylor and Ben Carlson and Steven Crowl are headed to Wisconsin next year. The top local uncommitted prospect left? Hopkins guard Kerwin Walton.

“I feel like a lot of kids feel like it depends on what school you go to will help you. But to me, if you’re good enough, they’ll find you. Why not stay home? Why not help build a program here? Why not make Minnesota a powerhouse? I obviously sound biased, but we have so much talent here. It’s kind of disappointing to see not a lot of kids want to stay home, but at the same time, it’s a huge opportunity here to be able to play in front of your family, your friends, your home state,” Oturu said last week. “I just don’t see why people pass that up. At the end of the day, come to the U.”

Pitino’s recruiting locally is well-chronicled. Before his first season at Minnesota, stars Tyus Jones and Reid Travis were two of the top players in the country. Jones won a national championship with Duke, and Travis went to Stanford before spending one season at Kentucky.

The salt on the open wound for Gophers fans are Lakeville natives Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl, and Maple Grove native Brad Davison heading to Wisconsin. The trio just won a Big Ten regular season title with the Badgers.

Pitino’s first big local recruit was Jarvis Johnson, who never got medically cleared to play due to a heart condition. Then, Michael Hurt and Amir Coffey pledged to stay home. Hurt, a Rochester John Marshall graduate, was one of three seniors recognized Sunday on Senior Day. He got his first start of the season, and scored five points. Eden Prairie native Brady Rudrud also got honored, and the Williams Arena faithful erupted when he scored his first points of the season on a late 3-pointer.

Coffey didn’t get a Senior Day send-off. He left the program after last season and is pursuing an NBA career with the L.A. Clippers. Hurt spoke glowingly last Friday of his four years at Minnesota.

“What me, Amir and Brady wanted to do is be a part of Minnesota kids kind of setting that standard for it’s cool to play for Minnesota. We can win here, I think we’ve shown that. Obviously we’ve had some down years along with the good, but showing that we can win here with Minnesota kids,” Hurt said. “Daniel, Jarvis and Gabe, those guys are all a testament as well. I think moving forward, obviously we’ve had some classes where we’ve missed on some kids, but I think that moving forward if you get more consistency with that, these kids grew up Gopher fans through and through just like me. Getting to a point where almost everyone is like that, we can get the Minnesota kids at a higher rate because there’s so much talent around here. You see it every single year. It’s fun to play for your home state and it means a little bit more too.”

Pitino’s program is now led by Oturu (for now), DeLaSalle graduate Gabe Kalscheur and former Orono star Jarvis Omera. Kalscheur tied a single-game record Sunday with eight 3-pointers.

He had a big recruiting day Sunday with 18 local high school players at the game as guests. Some of the names? Walton, Chet Holmgren, Treyton Thompson, Tre Holloman, Prince Aligbe, Cam Heide, Will Tschetter and Hersey Miller.

Pitino has a local commitment next season in Thompson. But if you ask Oturu, it should be on the players themselves to want to play for the Gophers. That’s the way he sees it.