Home-grown recruits hope to be part of something big with Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS—Playing together on an offseason AAU basketball team, Daniel Oturu, Gabe Kalscheur and Jarvis Thomas spent many long nights talking about what the next four years could hold for them.
They envisioned Oturu dominating the block, Kalscheur shooting 3s and Thomas using his athleticism to pull down rebounds. All for their hometown Gophers.
On Wednesday, the three Minnesotans take a giant step closer to becoming college teammates, with each planning to sign a letter of intent to play for the Gophers men's basketball team in what will be the U's biggest single haul of local talent since Royce White headlined three Minnesotans who did the same in 2009.
All three long ago gave oral commitments to the Gophers, and can sign officially with the program Wednesday, the first day the NCAA allows non-football and soccer players to sign letters of intent for the Class of 2018.
"We are all coming together for the same goal — to put on for our state," said Oturu, a 6-foot-10 center who plays for Cretin-Derham Hall. "You don't have to leave to be successful. We want to build our own legacy at the U and continue that with the younger generation, too. Hopefully, more kids will stay home, too, and play for the Gophers. We want to start a trend."
The Gophers have mostly failed to land the state's top talent, going back years. Oturu hopes this changes that, and he is quick to credit the guy who started all this two years ago: Amir Coffey of Hopkins, the first four-star recruit from Minnesota to commit to the Gophers since Joe Coleman in 2011.
"Amir choosing to stay home and go to the U was a really big thing back when he committed," Oturu said. "Before him, there were a lot of great in-state products, but for a couple years, there was a lot of emptiness. Not a lot of players stayed home, and I feel like (the Gophers) weren't recruiting enough in-state players. So Amir staying home was a really big part of my decision. I saw how successful he was as a freshman and it made me excited and feel like this was a great fit for me."
Oturu highlights the three-person recruiting class that 24/7 Sports ranks as seventh-best in the Big Ten.
Oturu, of Woodbury, is a consensus four-star center ranked the fourth-best player at his position in the nation. Overall, he ranks 44th nationally by ESPN and 51st by 24/7 Sports among all members of the 2018 recruiting class.
"Playing in front of our home state has always been my dream, and I've wanted to represent my state in a very positive way," Oturu said. "I want the state to be proud of me. I want to continue to be a great success here and make people happy."
Thomas is an athletic 6-foot-8 power forward from Orono High School, and Kalscheur is a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from DeLaSalle in Minneapolis.
"They had a lot of offers and they could've gone anywhere they wanted, but they chose to stay home with me," Oturu said. "I feel like that chemistry we have together after playing AAU will be helpful when we get to the U."
The Gophers did miss out on the state's top recruit, though it wasn't a surprise that Apple Valley point guard Tre Jones followed in brother Tyus' footsteps and committed to Duke.
Still, coach Richard Pitino's program nabbed the state's No. 2, 3 and 4 recruits from Minnesota.
"Bringing in local talent is pretty important for this program," said Coffey, a 6-8 wing player who was Big Ten freshman of the year last season. "We have a lot of talent in Minnesota, and the old trend was to leave. But these last couple of recruiting classes, we've gotten a couple of guys from home. I'm excited for them to sign. It's a good sign for Minnesota basketball."