It’s official now.
Minnesota Golden Gophers big man Daniel Oturu has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, following the path many expected the sophomore to take once his sophomore season came to an end. Oturu scored 24 points on March 11 in a Big Ten Tournament win over Northwestern before the college basketball season was canceled due to the Coronavirus, capping one of the greatest statistical seasons in Gophers history at 20.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
Head coach Richard Pitino indicated late in the season that he would support Oturu’s decision to play professionally if the opportunity arose. Oturu is the second consecutive Gophers star to leave the program early, joining Amir Coffey, who entered the 2019 draft after his junior season but was not selected.
So happy for @oturu65 as he embarks on his next journey. So proud of Daniel and excited for what lies ahead. He will always be a Gopher. The sky is the limit!
— Richard Pitino (@CoachPitinoMN) March 23, 2020
Oturu’s ascension to an All-Big Ten talent was relatively unexpected going into the year, but now the Cretin-Derham Hall alum has the chance to be the first Gophers draft pick since 2004 and potentially a top-10 talent. His departure also leaves a significant void in the Gophers’ frontcourt heading into 2020-21. Pitino, who has reportedly been assured of returning to the bench next season, will have his work cut out for him to replace Oturu’s double-double average.
The Gophers’ in-house options are slim. Redshirt senior-to-be Eric Curry is slated to return, but the power forward has spent close to three full seasons on the shelf due to ligament tears in both knees and a torn ligament in his right foot. Last year’s ACL tear in his right knee cost him the entire 2019-20 season, bringing into question whether Curry can meaningfully contribute going forward. As a freshman, Curry made big plays off the bench en route to Minnesota’s 2016-17 NCAA Tournament appearance but hasn’t been healthy since.
Jarvis Omersa is set to be a junior but has yet to prove himself as a reliable scorer in two years on the team. Meanwhile, 6-foot-10 sophomore-to-be Sam Freeman only played 30 total minutes his freshman season, deemed too raw to contribute in his first year despite having the necessary size.
Minnesota has good height coming into the program with next year’s freshmen class. Four-star recruit Martice Mitchell stands at 6-foot-10, while local four-star recruit Treyton Thompson (Alexandria) comes in at 6-foot-11. Both have lean builds, however, and will have to add strength to hold up defensively and in post-up situations, though each is capable of playing on the perimeter.
The Gophers will likely be looking for a stable presence in the frontcourt from the transfer market, as they’ve done in the past. Pitino brought in transfer Matz Stockman from Louisville three seasons ago to add some size for the 2018-19 season (after Stockman sat out a year) and signed grad transfer Alihan Demir from Drexel to be a forward on last year’s team.
Seven-foot-3 grad transfer candidate Mattias Markusson out of Loyola Marymount will likely generate a lot of interest from power-conference teams, while Kevin Marfo (6-foot-8, Quinnipiac) led the nation in rebounding. Patrick Tape (6-foot-10, Columbia) and Evan Cole (6-foot-10, Georgia Tech) could also provide depth.
As it stands now, the Gophers could be a small-ball team next season with all of their guards returning.