Following one of the best seasons for a big man in Gophers history, sophomore center Daniel Oturu decided to make his decision known about pursuing his NBA dream this year.
On an Instagram post Monday night, Oturu thanked his team, family and fans before officially announcing he would declare for the 2020 NBA draft.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound All-America and All-Big Ten performer averaged 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks this season. The former Cretin-Derham Hall standout is a potential first-round pick and seems likely to become the first Gophers player drafted since Kris Humphries in 2004.
“Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine since I was so young,” Oturu wrote on Instagram. “I have decided that I will declare for the 2020 NBA draft. I will begin this process at some point hire an agent and begin my training. With God, anything is possible.”
The Gophers, who were 15-16 this season, already were recruiting to try to replace their starting frontcourt of Oturu and senior Alihan Demir. The window for Oturu to return is still open, as long as he hasn’t yet signed with an agent.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino kept in touch with his star player to talk about the draft process. After meeting with Pitino last week, Oturu requested feedback from the NBA Underclassmen Advisory Committee on his draft stock.
“So happy for [Oturu] as he embarks on his next journey,” Pitino wrote on Twitter Monday night. “So proud of Daniel and excited for what lies ahead. He will always be a Gopher. The sky is the limit!”
Oturu follows in the footsteps of former college teammate Amir Coffey, who declared early for the NBA draft last year. Coffey went undrafted after bypassing his senior year of college, but the Hopkins High School product signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Clippers and made his NBA debut Dec. 31.
As a freshman starter alongside Coffey on the Gophers’ 2019 NCAA tournament team, Oturu averaged 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. With Coffey and All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy gone, Oturu had to carry more of the load this season. He delivered with 18 games with 20 points or more, while also having 12 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, tied for second in school history with Humphries.
What really impressed scouts was Oturu shooting 19-for-52 (37%) from three-point range. He went just 1-for-2 from long distance as a freshman.
“I think my game has taken a huge step forward,” Oturu said earlier this month. “Now that I’ve shown the ability to shoot the three and shoot jump shots, I can take my defender off the dribble and have more space to work.”
NBA scouts flocking to his games since early in the season saw that Oturu had improved not only physically, gaining 20 pounds, but also with his overall game, enough to be a legitimate pro prospect.
“He’s played himself into the conversation for a first-round pick,” ESPN college basketball and NBA draft analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “I thought [last year] that if this kid gets a little bit stronger and a little bit better at finishing, he’s going to be a handful. I think he’s exactly the kind of guy that needs to test the NBA waters.”
The NBA hasn’t announced how the pre-draft process would be affected after the league put its season on hold March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
All underclassmen declaring for this year’s NBA draft have until June 3 to remove their names to maintain their eligibility for college.