Daniel Oturu is becoming a man of many gestures, and flexing is his go-to move.
When the Gophers center dunks on a defender, the 6-foot-10, 225-pounder curls up each bicep toward the crowd as if he’s a bodybuilder. When he blocks a shot? Flex. A teammate draws an and-1? Another flex.
But there are other moves, too. When Oturu creates an assist, his hands go to his face as if he has binoculars for eyes. When a teammate gets hot, he raises the roof for him.
And he plays a mean game, too. Oturu’s 19 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks, and the Gophers’ comfortable 77-68 victory over Northwestern on Sunday at Williams Arena, gave him plenty of moments to show off his Pictionary skills.
Afterward, Northwestern coach Chris Collins cut the Charades, if you will, and sang Oturu’s praises, calling him “maybe the best” rebounder in the Big Ten, a void filled quickly after Gophers great Jordan Murphy held that label before his record-setting career ended last March.
Oturu, a Cretin-Derham Hall graduate, has nine double-doubles in 14 games this season; his latest helped Minnesota improve to 8-6 overall and 2-2 Big Ten. Going into Sunday, the reigning Big Ten player of the week was fourth in the nation at 12.2 rebounds per game and is one of 22 players in the nation averaging a double-double.
“He is producing at a ridiculous rate,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “… He is becoming one of the better players in the league. He is just taking that next step, which is great to see.”
Oturu considers himself a young historian of the game, modeling his play on legends like Hakeem Olajuwon, so maybe there’s a backstory to the flex. Nope.
“You got to show out a little bit,” he said after the game as Marcus Carr sort of snickered.
“Dan is a real positive, goofy guy, so whenever we’re on the court and he’s doing that stuff, it’s really just energy, honestly,” said Carr, who contributed 17 points and seven assists. “People may look at it as trying to be flashy or anything like that, but it’s really not. He gives us energy whether we’re down or whether we’re up. … trying to be a motivator. He does it when other people make big plays as well.”
When the Gophers’ Tre’ Williams dunked to give the freshman a career-high 10 points in the second half, Oturu busted out the old-school raise-the-roof move going into a timeout.
Oturu’s confidence can be seen in his shooting range as a sophomore, something that wasn’t there as a true freshman. It shows in his willingness to take mid-range jumpers and some 3-pointers.
“Daniel is a tough cover, not only because he’s scoring inside, but now he’s flashing to the high post, and he is making that mid-range shot,” Collins said. “He is putting it on the floor.”
Pitino recalled a play in Thursday’s double-overtime loss to Purdue during which he jab-stepped to the right and knocked down a crucial shot. “Not a lot of big guys can do that,” his coach said. “That is very impressive. That is definitely his skill. He can step out. He can rip it.”
Despite that stat line, Pitino said he’s still asking for more from Oturu. And Oturu is asking it of himself, too. That’s a scary thought.
As the final second ticked off on his 36-minute shift on Sunday, his hands found his hips. He can let others genuflect.