They like to eat the same kind of food and listen to the same music.
Obi Toppin and Jalen Crutcher say they clean up after each other in the apartment they share and Obi’s mom, Roni Toppin, said when either of them is about to leave for classes, he waits for the other so they can make the short walk to campus together.
“Early on when they started doing interviews with the media, Jalen would always help Obi out,” Roni said. “In the beginning he was better with words, so if Obi got stuck, Jalen finished the sentence for him.”
The thought made her laugh: “They’re like an old couple.”
“Like an old married couple,” specified Ryan Mikesell, their Dayton Flyers teammate. “Those two are inseparable. When you see Obi, there’s Jalen. And when you see Jalen, Obi’s always there, too.”
While that side-by-side sight of the two Dayton Flyers stars certainly makes UD fans smile, it gets just the opposite reaction from opposing teams when they see Crutcher driving down the lane and Toppin lurking on the baseline not far away.
They know a sweet, tear drop shot or a forceful alley-oop dunk is probably not far away.
Toppin and Crutcher are the one-two punch of the No. 3 Flyers who open Atlantic 10 Tournament play Friday at noon in a quarterfinal game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against the winner of Thursday’s Massachusetts-Virginia Commonwealth game.
Wednesday it was announced Toppin has become the school’s first basketball All American since Jim Paxson Jr. 41 years ago. A day earlier he was named the A-10 Player of the Year and soon may be named the national player of the year.
Crutcher is a first-team, Atlantic 10 selection and, in the words of UD coach Anthony Grant, “one of the best guards in the nation.”
Both are 1,000 career scorers at UD and have had a hand in many of the most dramatic plays for the 29-2 Flyers this season.
Toppin shattered his own UD record with 10 dunks in a December game against North Florida. Just 19 days later Crutcher hit the buzzer-beating, three pointer in overtime to lift UD to 78-76 victory at Saint Louis and keep alive what is now the nation’s longest winning streak at 20 games.
They’re best known, of course, for the way they seem to read each other’s mind as they execute those perfectly-timed, lob pass, slam dunks that have become a staple of ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day.
“On the court they just click,” said Sheila Crutcher, Jalen’s mom. “Somebody else can throw Obi a lob, but it’s just a little bit different than when Jalen does. They just seem to know exactly where the other one is and what he’s thinking.”
‘They’ve just rolled together’
The 6-foot-9 Toppin, who’s from Brooklyn, remembers the day he first met the 6-1 Crutcher in front of Marycrest Hall, the freshman dorm on campus:
“I had flown in earlier and already had my stuff in my room when he and his family drove in from Memphis. I said, ‘You need any help?’”
Sheila Crutcher remembers that day, as well: “Obi was there by himself and I said, ‘We’re going to Walmart to get some stuff for Jalen’s room, you want to ride along and get what you need?’”
“Ever since then Jalen and me been together like every single day,” Toppin laughed.
As Crutcher explained: “That first year there was four of us freshman all living next to each other. We had Jordan Davis, but he really didn’t talk much. And Jordan Pierce mostly stayed in his room. That just left me and Obi.”
“Ever since then they’ve just rolled together,” Sheila said.
Crutcher said the connection was simple: “He’s just fun to hang around with. He’s never bringing any negative energy.”
He said in the nearly three years the two have known each other they’ve never had an argument.
Their first season at UD, Crutcher was elevated to the starting point guard, but Toppin was red-shirted to work on his academics. He practiced, but often was on the scout team helping prepare the guys who played in the games.
“Sometimes though he’d come over and play with us,” Crutcher said. “We’d be on the team together and with him running in the flow like he can and the way he could jump and dunk, I just knew it was going perfect for us one day.
“I knew we were gonna complement each other and really have some fun.”
Last year – when both were allowed to join the older players who live in the Caldwell Street apartments a block from the Cronin Center practice gym – they first sought out Grant.
“They came to me and said, ‘Coach, can we room together?’” he laughed. “I said, ‘Sure,’ and it was like the happiest they could be.”
Toppin and Crutcher both said they are fastidious about cleaning up their apartment, a claim that made both of their mothers laugh.
“They’re OK, but you know how guys are,” Sheila said. “Moms are a little bit cleaner.”
“Their stuff is all over the place,” said Roni. “I think they wash their clothes together and then just pile it all in the living room and each just takes out what he needs.”
Although she said Jalen guided Obi in some of his early interviews that’s not the case anymore.
Toppin is delightful when he’s interviewed and when he and Crutcher are side by side, they can be like a comedy act.
Last season after Toppin had six dunks against Western Michigan, I asked them if there was some kind of clandestine sign they used to set up those perfectly-timed lob passes and the rim-rattling dunks that followed.
Toppin grinned and pulled out a reference to the Kristy Krab Diner from SpongeBob SquarePants: “It’s like the Krabby Patty (sandwich) formula. It’s secret.”
Another time in a game where Toppin had several dunks and Crutcher had a similar number of long three pointers, I asked them, “Which is tougher to pull off — the alley-oop dunk or the deep three?”
They both gave impassioned answers and then Toppin ended the debate by saying:
“But I can hit three pointers, too!”
Senior Trey Landers has watched their bond develop since they joined the team:
“They’re roommates so their chemistry is a little bit stronger than it might be with other people. It’s easy to see those guys love each other.
“But in a lot of ways that’s kind of the story of our team. We really care about each other — we do love the other guys — and it shows by the way we play on the court.”
Trip to New York
Last summer Crutcher went to visit Toppin and his family in New York.
“We took him all over,” Toppin said. “We went to Times Square and a water park and to Long Island Beach. We went out to restaurants and played basketball and we visited my grandmother and she cooked.
“Jalen liked the subway, but he said he felt like he was in The Matrix, that there was top many people around.”
Roni is known for eggplant parmesan and especially the empanadas she makes and brings to Obi and the team when they play nearby. This year she took a bunch to a game in Philadelphia. Last year she brought her son several dozen when the Flyers played at Fordham.
When she comes to Dayton she makes them here: “I found a Spanish grocery there in town where I can get everything I need.”
Over Easter break there had been some talk that Toppin might visit Memphis for the first time. Sheila said Jalen has talked about bringing him to a famed “hot wings place where the NBA and University of Memphis players all eat” and, of course, down to Beale Street.
The fact that their day-to-day life is about to end – Toppin almost certainly will leave for the NBA draft after the Flyers’ season ends – saddened both a little.
“Who knows, we might end up playing together again,” Crutcher said quietly. “I do know me and him will be friends forever. He always says I’m gonna be the best man in his wedding and stuff.”
Toppin nodded: “We’re going to be friends ‘til the end. We been through so much together that our connection is like no other. We could be blood brothers.”
One thing about their connection though has caught Roni a bit off guard:
“I think Obi’s starting to sound like he’s from Memphis. He’s getting an accent.
“I tell him, ‘Obi… Obi, you’re from Brooklyn, not Memphis! When you talk, you’re starting to sound like Jalen! You two sound alike.’”
In other words, they’re sounding like an old married couple.
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