Updated: March 28, 2020 07:24 PM
Created: March 24, 2020 04:25 PM
Richard Pitino is thrilled Gophers' sophomore Daniel Oturu will have a chance to realize his dream of hearing his name called in the NBA Draft, but acknowledges Oturu's departure will leave a significant void.
"Yeah, it's a bit of a double edged sword," Pitino told KSTP Sports' Chris Long in a video chat on Tuesday afternoon. "Daniel was maybe the most improved player in the country... our second all American in 21 years!. I'm so, so proud of him.
"Knock on wood with Daniel, but, we haven't had a player drafted from this program since 2004. So we're gonna fight our butts off within this climate of - who knows what the process is going to be - to get him into the NBA and hear that name called."
Click the video box on this page to watch the video chat KSTP Sports' Chris Long had with Richard Pitino including discussion on Daniel Oturu entering the NBA Draft, unknowns entering the offseason, poential transfer implications for the Gophers and thoughts on Richard's father Rick returning to coach college basketball
The NBA Draft is still scheduled for June 25th, but obviously the Coronavirus pandemic could change the date and the pre-draft process.
"It used to be spring break would hit and a potential NBA guy would go to California or Vegas and workout. Daniel doesn't need to be doing that right now. In this climate, he needs to be staying home and being safe," Pitino said. "I could see the timeline being pushed back. It's our job as a coaching staff to put him in the best position to help him rise on those draft boards and we'll see where it all goes."
Pitino identified several traits Oturu built up in his two years as a Gopher.
"I think endurance," Pitino said. "He got really really tired a lot as a freshman. With Eric Curry going down, we had to put him in a position where he was going to play a lot of minutes.
"20 points a game and 11 rebounds per game means he's on the court a lot so he's defending without fouling.
"I think his touch from the three point line has really really improved. That's something we worked with him every single day on.
"And his confidence, I mean, he knew he had the green light if it was a good shot to take."
Pitino cautioned "mock drafts" can be all over the map - especially considering it would still be early in this year's draft season even in a normal year - but some early mock drafts do have Oturu landing as a lottery pick.
"What Daniel has - he's got an NBA skill set that everybody sees," Pitino said. "We were able to get him to step away from the basket and shoot threes, put him on the perimeter to rip and drive and go, block shots.
"He's an 'NBA type big', he's not like this bruising back-to-the-basket guy. So I think that's why people are intrigued by it."
In addition to excitement for what lies ahead for Oturu, Pitino is also thrilled his father and Basketball Hall of Famer Rick has returned to college basketball.
Rick Pitino recently accepted the head coaching job at Iona College in New York City.
"For a coach like me who's only 37 years old, I gotta remind myself you got a guy at 67 who still has that desire and that passion to do it. I'm so happy for him to be back at Iona," Richard said. "It's kind of cool to see you know because… at our level there's higher pressure and higher stress just because that comes with being at the highest level. Where he can be at a level where it's just all about coaching those young kids. They're going to be so lucky to have him. Whenever any of us can travel and he can get to campus I know he's excited to meet those guys and get to coaching them."
The elder Pitino entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 20113. He has been coaching in Greece, where his Panathinaikos team won a Greek Cup championship.
His last college coaching job at Louisville ended in resignation amid a nationwide NCAA recruiting scandal in 2017.
"We're all in charge of whoever works for us," Richard said. "Certainly some things happened under his watch, so to speak, that we all have to be held accountable for. That's the scary part of being a leader but it's also the right thing - we've all got to be held accountable. But he paid his price."
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