Cretin-Derham Hall senior Daniel Oturu received an interesting message last week from someone representing Lavar Ball, the entrepreneur and flamboyant father of Los Angeles Lakers star Lonzo Ball.
Ball’s attempting to launch the Junior Basketball Association, a league that wants to give high-profile young players another route to the NBA besides the NCAA after they graduate from high school.
Oturu, a 6-foot-10 center and four-star Gophers recruit, is among the top 50 players in the Class of 2018. So he was contacted by Ball, along with several other top prospects, about joining the league after their senior year.
The answer was simple for Oturu, basically, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“It was weird, but it was also cool that he wanted me to play in his new JBA league,” Oturu said. “I already told him, ‘No, I’m going to college and I’m looking to make my state proud.’ That’s my goal. That’s been my dream. Nothing is going to change that.”
Lavar’s Big Baller Brand is funding the league, which is reportedly to consist of 10 teams playing at NBA Arenas in cities such as Atlanta, Brooklyn, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Ball told ESPN’s Darren Rovell in December: “Getting those players is going to be easy,” because “it is giving guys a chance to get a jump start on their career, to be seen by pro scouts and we're going to pay them.”
Like most ballers, Oturu has dreams of playing in the NBA someday, but Ball’s league didn’t interest him. That’s as far as the conversation went.
“It was nothing,” he said about the invitation. “I just wanted to straighten that out right away, so nobody got any ideas or anything. I just let him know I don’t accept the offer.”
Oturu’s goals this year are to lead Cretin-Derham Hall to a state championship. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 6.4 blocks for the No. 1 high school team in Minnesota.
"We’re just taking it a day at a time," he said. "Not even looking ahead. We’re focusing our attention one game at a time. We’re not looking anything past Mounds View, which we play on Thursday. The way we treat that stuff is helping us a lot."
The Raiders also play Saturday against DeLaSalle, which features fellow Gophers signee Gabe Kalscheur. Oturu’s excited to join Kalscheur and Orono’s Jarvis Omersa in next season's freshman class to help the U get back to being a contender in the Big Ten. All three recruits were recently named to the top 10 list for the Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award.
"It’s truly a blessing," Oturu said. "I feel like the way I’m leading my team and the success we’re having right now, I feel like I’m a leading candidate to win it."
The Gophers, who play Friday at Indiana, have lost nine of their last 10 games, including six straight after Tuesday’s 91-85 loss to Nebraska at home. But Oturu remains optimistic about what his future program can accomplish the rest of the season.
“I’m always rooting for my Gophers,” Oturu said. “Hopefully, they can make a stride and make the (NCAA) tournament. There’s always going to be tough games. If they continue to (compete) with the guys they got right now, they can end the season on a strong note. And I feel like that would really be beneficial for our team and the incoming guys. Even if they don’t make the tournament, they can lay a good foundation for us to come into and build off of.”