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Don’t Bet on Oturu Return to Gophers

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March 4, 2020

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Enjoy a Wednesday notes column focused on the Gophers and Twins:

University of Minnesota sophomore center Daniel Oturu is likely closing out his college career this month. A college and pro authority told Sports Headliners multiple sources believe the former Cretin-Derham Hall star will declare for the NBA Draft in the spring.

The authority, a former college coach now with NBA connections, has seen Oturu play both collegiately and as a prep. “I’ve heard he is gone for sure,” the source said about the Gophers’ leading scorer and rebounder, who was named a mid-season All-American by Sporting News in January.

The 6-foot-10, 240-pound Oturu has experienced a breakout season after averaging 10 points and seven rebounds as a freshman. His averages this year of 20.2 points per game and 11.4 rebounds rank with the best stats for centers in the country. With exceptional athleticism, he has multiple skills including shot blocking, attacking off the dribble, and scoring inside and outside. NBAdraft.net projects him as the No. 7 first round selection in the 2020 NBA Draft.

The source (he asked that his name not be used) places a “high ceiling” label on the 20-year-old regarding his potential. At No. 7 in the draft, Oturu would be a coveted pick and receive millions of dollars in a multi-year guaranteed deal. The source believes it will benefit Oturu to leave college because he can concentrate 24-7 on basketball, with all the coaching, training, dietary and practice expertise offered by professional teams.

The Gophers, 7-11 in the Big Ten and 13-15 overall, will play at Indiana tonight and then finish the regular season Sunday with a home game against Nebraska. With a possible opening elimination loss in next week’s Big Ten Tournament—and with prospects for a national postseason tournament invitation iffy because of Minnesota’s record—Oturu could be down to his last three games playing for the hometown team.

Race Thompson

Minnesota will face a Hoosier roster that includes 6-8 redshirt sophomore forward Race Thompson, the former Armstrong star and son of U all-time football great Darrell Thompson. Race, a reserve who averages 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, had season highs of 25 minutes and 10 rebounds in the IU win over Minnesota last month.

Although the Gophers haven’t sold out a single home game this season, there is still plenty of interest in the program. The Big Ten Network reports last Sunday’s game between No. 24 Wisconsin and Minnesota averaged 693,272 viewers on BTN, making it the most-watched regular season game in network history as well as cable TV’s highest-rated college basketball game of the day.

The basketball evaluator mentioned above is also familiar with gifted Minnehaha Academy senior guard Jalen Suggs, who has committed to Gonzaga. He said if prep players could declare for the draft out of high school, Suggs would be selected in the first or second round.

Twins president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners yesterday that center fielder Byron Buxton continues to progress from the shoulder injury he sustained last season and is expected to soon play in a spring training game. The aggressive and spectacular fielding Buxton was on the Injured List four times last season. It’s anticipated he will now make changes in the field to enhance the likelihood of not hurting himself.

“It’s going to be up to him,” St. Peter said. “No one with the Twins has mandated anything with Byron relative to that (change). I think Byron has come to the realization on his own that perhaps there is another way of playing and still help the team win as an elite defensive player.”

Kenta Maeda, who figures to be the Twins’ No. 3 starting pitcher, has pitched in 24 division, championship and World Series postseason games. Contrast that with top starters Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi who have each pitched in one division postseason game. Berrios also has a game of wildcard experience.

St. Peter acknowledged part of the “intrigue” in wanting to acquire the 31-year-old Maeda was his experience pitching in big games including the postseason. Beyond that the Twins believe he can pitch a lot of innings, while relieving the workload on a bullpen that at times last season had to bail out the club early in games.

Fernando Romero, the Dominican Republic relief pitcher who appeared in 15 games with the Twins last season, has a visa issue and is not in Florida for spring training. “Not sure when he is going to be in camp,” St. Peter said.

The Twins like Romero’s potential. “He’s a guy that still could be in the mix,” St. Peter said. “Obviously at this point I think it’s a long shot he could make our club on opening day but he’s certainly a guy that we continue to believe can impact us at the big league level, and will impact us at some point here in 2020.”

The Twins home opener April 2 against the Athletics is close to a sellout. “If you don’t have your opening day tickets, you might be out of luck,” St. Peter said.

Keoni Cavaco, the Twins 2019 number one draft choice, hit only .172 last year for the GCL Twins but the 18-year-old infielder has one of the best arms in the minor leagues, according to Baseball America.

The Twins made outfielder Alex Kirilloff, shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielder Trevor Larnach as their first round draft choices in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. Per Mlb.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Minnesota’s four top prospects are Lewis (No. 9 among all minor league players), Kirlihoff (No. 32), Larnach (No. 81) and pitcher Jordan Balazovic (No. 86).

None of the prospects is expected to make the opening day roster.

Hockey authority Kevin Gorg told Sports Headliners “it’s hard not to like” Warroad to win the Class A boys’ hockey state tournament title. He believes Warroad would even be a force in the larger schools Class AA where “parity is immense.”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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