The 16-year drought is over. The Golden Gophers have an NBA draft pick.
After coming close with fringe prospects Vincent Grier (2006), Trevor Mbakwe (2013) and Amir Coffey (2019), Daniel Oturu became the University of Minnesota’s first draft pick since 2004 when Kris Humphries was selected 14th overall by the Utah Jazz. Oturu is reportedly headed to the Los Angeles Clippers, who acquired the 33rd pick from the New York Knicks, who acquired it from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Though Oturu was officially picked by the Timberwolves, his hometown team, a series of trades will send him to the West Coast, where he’ll team up with Coffey, his former teammate. He is the 54th Gophers player ever to be selected.
Oturu grew up in Woodbury, Minn., attended Cretin-Derham Hall and played two years for the Golden Gophers. The local product helped get the Gophers to the 2019 NCAA Tournament as a freshman, then earned Second-Team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore despite the postseason being cut short due to the pandemic.
Fans have criticized Gophers head coach Richard Pitino for letting NBA talent escape state borders in recruiting. They can’t say that anymore now that Coffey has found a niche with the Clippers and Oturu is headed for L.A.
“For our program to have back to back players out of the state of Minnesota go to the NBA, that just shows the growth of the program,” Pitino said Tuesday, “and it wasn’t like either one of them were these, ‘Go wherever and you’re going to be a pro and it doesn’t matter.’ Now that doesn’t take away from their ability, they’re both very, very good players. But I really feel like Amir choosing here, Daniel choosing here really benefited them. … That’s huge for the growth of the program. You want to win, you want to graduate players, but you also want to show that you can help them achieve their drafts, so we’re really excited about it.”
Pitino learned in his time at Florida that recruiters need to sell the success of their alums as much as their team’s win totals. In Florida’s case they were Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer. But Pitino now has a new standard-bearer for the Gophers in Oturu.
“Daniel really chose Minnesota for all the reasons that we constantly try to sell but may not always be as simple as maybe they should be,” Pitino said. “He valued playing for the name on the front of the jersey. He valued his family being at the games. He valued that network, whether it’s his high school coaches, AAU coaches, he cared about that. He was one where we were playing a rivalry game, whether it’s Wisconsin or Iowa, and you’d be giving a talk in the locker room and he’d be sitting there and you can tell, more excited about this game.”
In his final college season, Oturu averaged 20.1 points per game along with 11.3 rebounds to record 18 double-doubles. He nearly doubled his scoring average and turned into a 37% 3-point shooter, a skill that will make him more versatile at the next level.
Oturu wasn’t the only Minnesota-based prospect to hear his name called. Here’s a rundown of the other three:
ZEKE NNAJI (22ND OVERALL, DENVER NUGGETS)
The Hopkins High School graduate averaged 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds at Arizona and earned PAC-12 Rookie of the Year honors. According to Nnaji, he’s setting his sights on the Rookie of the Year.
TYRELL TERRY (31ST OVERALL, DALLAS MAVERICKS)
After winning multiple high school championships at DeLaSalle, Terry moved on to Stanford where he scored 14.6 points per game and shot 41% from the 3-point line. Now he gets to play with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Get ready for some corner 3s.
TRE JONES (41ST OVERALL, SAN ANTONIO SPURS)
After an illustrious career at Apple Valley, Jones played two years under Coach K at Duke. His older brother, Tyus, spent his early years with the Timberwolves before signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in free agency. Now the younger brother joins the Spurs and another legendary coach, Greg Popovich, who just missed the playoffs for the first time since 1997.