Thursday, April 26, 2018

All-State Snub: The Strange Case of Daniel Oturu...and Friends

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) raised a lot of eyebrows last month when the leading scorer for Class AAAA champion Cretin-Derham Hall, 6-10 “big” Daniel Oturu, was left off the all-tournament team. Oturu led Cretin in scoring in each of their 1st2 wins with 24 points in each game with 21 rebounds and 13 blocked shots. In the final, he scored 17 points with 6 rebounds, 6 blocks and 5 assists, and he scored the game-winning points on an alley-oop dunk with about one second on the clock. Apple Valley’s Tre Jones scored 35 points, yet KSTC-TV/Channel 45 picked Oturu as its player of the game.
            
Yet, this was hardly the first time that the leading scorer for a championship team was left off of the all-tournament team. Nor was it the second, or…. Amazingly, this is the sixth time that such a thing has happened. Most recently it had happened in 1999, when St. Paul Highland Park became the first St. Paul public school to win a state championship in 50 years. The Scots came in at 24-2, and had just moved up to #3 in the Class AAA rankings as a result of surprising Minneapolis Patrick Henry 76-75 in the Twin City Game. Yet, their first round game with Mankato East was described as a toss-up.
            
Instead, Highland Park won fairly easily by winning the middle periods 41-22. Moe Hargrow and Mark Wingo scored 19 each to lead the Scots. North St. Paul had come into the tournament at 13-13, but shocked 21-3 Red Wing 71-53 in the first round of play. But, Highland Park ran out to a 33-17 half-time lead and won their semi-final matchup 71-54. Thomas Miley scored 18 points, Hargrow 14 and Wingo 13 for the Scots.
            
Highland led Rocori most of the way in the final, but it was still just 44-41 at the three minute mark. But, the Scots pulled away on Wingo’s two free throws and last-second dunk. He finished with 17 points and nine boards, while 5-9 point guard Terence Stokes had 14 points and 5 steals.
            
Over the course of the three games, all five Highland Park starters averaged in double figures. Somebody had to be left off the all-tournament team and, surprisingly, one of them was Wingo, who led the Scots with 49 points for the weekend. He thus became the fifth boy to lead a state championship team in scoring and to be snubbed by the all-tournament committee.
            
The previous four were:

• 1923—Mathew Turk, Aurora forward, the only player ever to lead the entire  tournament in scoring for a championship team and to be left off the all-tournament team. He scored 45 points in four games, but tournament observers thought his teammate, center Paul Danculovich, was the tournament’s best player.

• 1939—Harry Franz, Mountain Lake forward, led his team in scoring but most observers thought that his teammate, guard Ruben Epp, was he tournament’s top performer.

• 1956—Bob Freund, Minneapolis Roosevelt center, was one of five Teddies to average in double figures as Roosevelt scored a record 250 points in three games and 101 in the st

• 1959—Wayzata, having finished third in the Lake Conference during the regular season, surprised everybody by winning the state title. Forward Bo Vanman led the 

The Strange Case of Daniel Oturu

So, Daniel Oturu’s failure to make all-tournament was nothing so terribly unusual from one point of view. But, taking in all of the circumstances surrounding it, it was in fact a singular moment in tournament history. A key sequence in the Apple Valley-Cretin Class AAAA final occurred in the waning seconds of the 1sthalf. The game was tied at 40 and Cretin got the ball to Oturu inside. He put up a shot, which missed, but it appeared that he had been fouled. No whistle. Teammate Sy Chatman got the rebound and put it back up. The shot missed, but he appeared to get raked all the way from his wrist to his elbow. No call. Oturu grabbed the rebound but before he could put it back up, Jones knocked it loose with a vicious whack on the wrists. No call.

Oturu grabbed Jones in the chest and shoulder area and pushed him to the floor, then stood over him, seething with anger. An official quickly stepped in and called a technical foul. KSTC announcer Kevin Lynch reported that there had been “obvious fouls” on the 3 Cretin shots. The next day, StarTribunereporter Jim Paulsen wrote the same thing. As everyone walked down to the other end for Jones FT on the technical foul, Lynch said, “Isn’t Oturu going to shoot his FT for the foul at the other end.” Only then did it dawn on him that there had been no foul—that is to say, no foul called, other than the T on Oturu—on the other end.

Jones made 1-of-2 FT and Apple Valley led 41-40 at the half.

The technical was Oturu’s 2ndfoul. He was called for his 3rdfoul at 11:53 of the 2ndhalf and his 4that 10:19. He sat for the next 6 minutes as a 60-58 Cretin lead turned into a 69-67 Apple Valley lead. He did not score his 16thand 17thpoints of the night until the waning seconds of the game, but over the final 4 minutes he also had a rebound, 2 assists, a steal and 2 blocked shots.

When Oturu’s name was not announced as part of the all-tournament team, it was immediately obvious that it was because of the T. There was not the slightest whiff of a reason to think he was not one of Class AAAA’s top 2 players. Lynch quickly said, “I don’t agree with that.”
            
So, Oturu made a mistake. No doubt. It was triggered by 5 seconds of utterly demented officiating. No question. For his mistake, Oturu received the technical foul, which resulted in one point for the Apple Valley side, a point that could easily have decided the game. He sat on the bench for 6 minutes of the 2ndhalf, which could easily have cost Cretin a chance to win the game at the end. And after all of that, he was left off the all-tournament team. He made a mistake, and he was made accountable for that mistake, twice over.

The officials, meanwhile, whose mistakes led to the whole contretemps, may or may not have been spoken to. Okay, probably not. Certainly not publicly. No accountability there. When the kids make mistakes, they’re held accountable. When the adults make mistakes…? You tell me.

And when Oturu was left off the all-tournament team, the MSHSL initially said that the all-tournament team was chosen by the media. People from radio station KDHL, sitting on the sidelines and among the media people who voted for all-tournament honors, did a quick, informal poll on media row. They did not find a single member of the media who had not voted for Oturu. 

At that point, the official explanation became that it was “a committee decision,” as was reported on the post-game show by the KSTC announcers. The next day, a print report identified Tim Leighton, MSHSL director of communications, as the source of the information that this had been “a committee decision.” I emailed Tim a couple of days later and asked him, What committee was that? Does this committee have a name? Who are the members of this committee? He emailed back to say, “It was a committee decision.”

Again, kids make mistakes, and they’re held accountable. Adults make mistakes, it’s certainly not obvious that there’s any accountability there. And when a committee makes a decision, even one that it would surely insist was not a mistake, the bureaucratic instinct is even then to duck accountability. Not a pretty picture.

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