Obi Toppin’s fairytale walk from a skinny high school tweener without a single offer from four year college to one N.B.A. Choose lottery started with a promise. He did it four years ago Rodrick Harrison, the basketball coach at Mount Zion Prep near Washington.
It came after Toppin ‘s senior year disappointment at Ossining High School in Westchester County, New York, when Toppin did not even receive a scholarship offer from a Division II college, according to Harrison. Toppin had an option at junior college until a mutual friend suggested that Toppin deserved the chance to spend a year with Harrison at Mt. Zion in Lanham, Md.
Harrison watched a game at Ossining and immediately fell in love with Toppin’s skill and hard work. Later that day the two spoke on the phone.
“He said to me,” Coach, if you give me an opportunity, I promise I won’t fail, “Harrison recalled during a phone interview on Thursday.” “I will work as hard as possible. I’ll do whatever I have to do “Then it clicked for me. When someone is so humble and talented, he’s like a blank canvas.”
Toppin made the most of his year-long stint at Mt. Zion, which turned it into an offer from the University of Dayton, Ohio, where he played two seasons, averaging 20 points per game in his senior year, and then was knicks with his hometown number 8 in the NBA Wednesday night draft.
The Knicks are also expected to take over Immanuel Quickley, a University of Kentucky top marksman who was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 25th poll.
It was an unusual draft that was kept from afar because of the pandemic, and several players were overwhelmed on the occasion, including Toppin. He burst into tears when interviewed on ESPN, both because he was returning to New York – he grew up in Brooklyn – and because he had emerged from near total darkness to become a top 10 pick.
“It’s a blessing to hear my name,” he told reporters. “A lot of people dream about it and there are only 60 picks and I was one of those picks.”
When Toppin walked through the doors of the mountain for the first time. Zion, he stood 6-foot-5, weighed about 185 pounds, and had trouble getting the attention of the best A.A.U. Teams close by. Today he’s 6-foot-9, weighs 220 pounds, and holds the 2020 John R. Wooden Award for College Player of the Year after leading the Flyers to a 29-2 record last season.
He shoots from a long distance and in the central area and cuts to the edge. He is known for electrifying audiences with his innovative and acrobatic dunks.
“I don’t rate his dunks,” said Anthony Grant, Dayton’s head coach, “but he’s definitely going to excite a lot with his explosiveness, variety and showmanship.” Fun to see. TV has to be seen. “
Toppin tried to show off his talent for years when few watched. So if he gets the opportunity, he won’t waste it. At Mt. Zion, when he had started stretching another four inches and becoming a remarkable player, he finally began to attract the attention of colleges across the country. A group of coaches from state universities such as Minnesota and Wyoming came to watch him train one day in February 2017. But Toppin had injured his thumb on his shooting hand at a tournament the day before. Harrison told all of the disappointed coaches not to expect much.
Toppin practiced anyway and put on a show by shooting left-handed people. Harrison said he went 6 for 8, all with his free hand.
“That’s unheard of right there,” said Harrison. “I thought,” Why didn’t you tell me you can shoot with your left hand, Obi? “But he wasn’t afraid of it.”
Toppin was still available until April of that year, when Grant persuaded him to go to Dayton.
Grant recalled a game last year in St. Louis when Toppin showed a poor performance in the first half. The visitor bench was right next to the student section and the students drove hard on Toppin when the Billikens were 13 points clear in the middle of the second half.
But Toppin was fueled by the ridicule. During a break, he emphatically told his teammates that they would not lose the game. He scored 8 points in the last four minutes of regulation to force overtime and Dayton won. But it was more than just the dots: his demeanor and self-confidence permeated the entire team.
“The things he did to get us to work overtime and then win the game,” Grant said, “and to deal with what was coming, it really impressed me.”
Toppin said he modeled his game on Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers’ multi-tooled center, but admitted that he still has a long way to go before he can keep up with Davis as a defensive star.
Defense is indeed the one aspect of Toppins ‘game that takes work, but it is tutored by Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau, one of the top defensive coaches in the N.B.A. A lot of defense is about hard work and dedication, and Grant said when Toppin was at Dayton he was always eager to learn and quick to find out.
“I don’t see Obi as defensive player of the year in the league,” said Grant. “But I also think he can be a great player and an asset. He will be all it needs to make the Knicks a success. I still think it didn’t scratch the surface. “