Sitting in his hotel room in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, former Gophers star Daniel Oturu pumped his fists with excitement watching his former team upset No. 7 Michigan at Williams Arena.
Immediately after the game, Oturu chatted with his ex-teammates fresh off the big win. It was like he was right there with them celebrating.
"Those are still my brothers," Oturu said. "I'm going to continue to root for them even though I'm halfway across the country."
After becoming an All-America as a sophomore last season, the Cretin-Derham Hall product was the first Gophers player drafted into the NBA in 16 years. He's played in seven games with the Los Angeles Clippers as a rookie this year.
Oturu talked recently about the Gophers, his replacement Liam Robbins, the life of an NBA rookie big man and more in a Q&A with the Star Tribune.
Q: What did you think of the Gophers' win against Michigan on Saturday?
A: It was great. Every chance I get I try to tune in as much as possible because those are my brothers still to this day and forever. I'm trying to see how they're doing. Liam played really well. It makes it really hard to guard them when he's knocking down threes. His performance and what you get from Marcus [Carr] on a daily basis helped them win.
Q: Asking Robbins to replace your production was a tall order. How do you think he's done?
A: He's a good player. He's a good dude. He's starting to find his footing and he competes. That's all that matters. He's going out there and competing every day. All those other things will fall into place as long as you're competing. I think he has the quality about him he plays hard regardless of the situation. That's super important. There is a different type of big man every night in the Big Ten. Having that opportunity was very important for me. It helped me a lot for sure.
Q: How good do you think the Gophers can be this season?
A: I think they can be one of the three best teams in the conference. The team is very different from last year. They have a lot more depth. They're able to give the starters a little more rest, so they can play those tough minutes down the stretch in games. And ultimately, they have the real ability and chance to make something special happen this year. It's just very happy for me to see. That's all I've wanted for the U of M basketball program. It's for us to succeed at the highest possible level. And they're starting to do that. We started that when I got there when we went to the NCAA tournament [and won]. We took a minor step back last year, but we're making strides this year. That just brings a smile to my face because that's all I cared about is putting my home state basketball program on the map. They're doing that right now and waking people up.
Q: What did it feel like to score your first official NBA basket?
A: When I scored my first NBA basket it was cool in the moment. We lost that game, so I was more upset about the loss than anything else. But it was a very unique experience getting out there and playing a little bit. Playing in this type of atmosphere is very different from college. I'm just continuing to count my blessings and thank God I'm here. Just embracing my opportunity.
Q: What is it like having fellow ex-Gopher Amir Coffey as a teammate again in the NBA?
A: This is his second year. He's already been through the go around once already. He's been through what I'm going through. So, having my college teammate and my guy here definitely helps. He's been a guiding force helping me navigate my first year in the league.
Q: Any particular NBA vets who have been mentoring you with the Clippers?
A: Talking to Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris a lot. Definitely those two guys for sure are very helpful. Marcus Morris the most just because he's a player with a skillset I think I can bring to a team. I hopefully can do some of the things he can do. If I work hard, I can reach his type of level. He's a guy who teaches me a lot about the game. Every day he gives me something new and to think about. He's someone I really appreciate.
Q: How have you been able to grow despite not playing as much right now?
A: Every rookie's experience is different. Some rookies get to play a lot in their first year. Regardless if you're playing or not the practices and the individual workouts and scrimmages are very important. Those are your games. This is where you get better. I've learned that pretty quickly and understanding I have to go as hard as I can for the limited reps I'm getting in the game and in practice even more. That's where I can get better.
Q: What was your moment in awe of being in the NBA?
A: It was my first game when we were playing the Lakers. I walked out on the floor and saw LeBron in uniform and in the NBA for the first time. That was pretty dope for me. I've had a poster of LeBron on my wall since I was in second grade. Just being able to watch him up close like that in person for the first time was awesome. I'm grateful for the experience.