When the Gophers men’s basketball team opened its first official practice Tuesday at Athletes Village, Daniel Oturu was battling a cold at home instead of joining his teammates in the paint.
It won’t be long, though, before the 6-10 sophomore center is back showing the Gophers that being a year older has made a big difference, especially with his body.
Not only did Oturu turn 20 Friday, but he also added more than 20 pounds this offseason.
He’s gone from 225 pounds to more than 245 since arriving as a freshman last year. That could help the Gophers replace the physical inside presence of graduated All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy, a bruiser at 6-7 and 250.
“I feel a lot stronger,” Oturu said this offseason. “Everybody says when we play that I’m a lot stronger than before. I feel a little bit more explosive too, when I’m jumping and trying to grab rebounds.”
Murphy was on the regional cover of the Street & Smith’s college basketball yearbook last season. Oturu’s picture is on the college hoops magazine cover this season.
He averaged 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds with 46 blocks and 55% shooting from the field in 2018-19. The latter three categories led all Big Ten freshmen.
The next step for Oturu was getting stronger. Now Pitino wants his talented young big man to be more physical posting up and setting screens. On the team’s foreign tour to Italy this summer, Oturu also displayed some three-point shooting ability.
“If you can pop every now and then, that will help,” Pitino said Tuesday. “He just has to figure out where his bread is buttered. Not falling in love with the three, but every coach loves a [center] who can shoot.”
Oturu isn’t the only Gophers post player who got bigger since last season. Sophomore forward Jarvis Omersa gained 10 pounds and is now 6-7, 235. Omersa played some center Tuesday with Oturu out sick and redshirt junior big man Eric Curry’s contact limited coming back from a foot injury.
Curry and Omersa could play behind Oturu at center this season. Oturu’s tested his added strength against another big body in 6-10, 240-pound freshman Sam Freeman this offseason.
“I like playing against a player like that because it gives me a feel for what it’s like in the Big Ten,” Oturu said. “He’ll help the team a lot based on his strength, rebounding and defense. Sam works hard and wants to be good. So, having him to compete against me every day is helping a lot.”
Cretin-Derham Hall coach Jerry Kline remembers when Oturu was barely over 200 pounds out of high school, but “he’s got a chest now,” Kline said.
“He’s got physicality,” Kline said. “He’s put on [20 pounds of] what they need and what he needs. It’s totally going to help him be more dominant. He’s going to have to work really hard to do what Jordan Murphy did, but his numbers are going to go up just because of sheer strength. Daniel realized going against Maryland and Michigan State and Ohio State, he wasn’t big enough. He said, ‘Coach, I wasn’t there, but this year I’ll be there and be even better.’ He gets it.”