The hype starts now for Obi Toppin. He should be used to it. His actions on the court last season as a Dayton Flyers redshirt freshman — the between-the-legs dunk, the eight-dunk game, the numerous alley-oop passes he caught from Jalen Crutcher — suggest he welcomes it.
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Last summer, video emerged of him dunking in a pickup game with NBA stars, and the excitement level rose for Toppin’s debut with the Dayton Flyers. His biggest accomplishment last season, his first on the court after sitting out of the 2017-18 season, was not only living up to the expectations but surpassing them.
Toppin improved from month to month throughout the 2018-19 season, earned the Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year award and becoming the first A-10 rookie since Rhode Island’s Lamar Odom in 1999 to make the all-conference first team. With all of Dayton’s 11 scholarship players on campus this month and next, work has started for Toppin and the rest of the Flyers, who want to take their game to the next level.
“Every day it’s a grind,” said Toppin in May after announcing he was withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft. “I’m in there working on the things other coaches told me to work on and just working on the things I need to be prepared for in the season coming up.”
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Although five months of offseason work remain until the start of the 2019-20 season, now is as good a time as any to analyze Toppin’s chances of making more history. No Dayton player has ever won the A-10 Player of the Year Award. The drought could end in 2020. Here’s a ranking of the top 10 candidates in what should be an improved year for the conference as a whole:
1. Toppin: The 6-foot-9 forward’s fast improvement, if it continues, gives him a chance to pass the three other returning A-10 first-team selections: Davidson guards Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady and Virginia Commonwealth’s Marcus Evans. Toppin averaged 12.9 points from November through January and 17.1 in February and March. He ranked sixth in the country in effective field-goal percentage (68.4).
2. Gudmundsson: As a junior, the 6-5 guard from Iceland became the third Davidson player in five years to win the A-10 Player of the Year award. He increased his scoring average from 13.2 to 16.9 points per game. He has 1,266 points in three seasons.
3. Evans: The 6-2 guard will be a fifth-year senior next season. He averaged 20.1 points per game in two seasons at Rice and 13.6 last season in his first season at VCU. He has 1,800 points in his career.
4. Grady: The 6-5 guard, the A-10 Rookie of the Year in 2018, has scored 1,111 points in his first two seasons. His scoring average fell from 18.0 to 17.3 as a sophomore.
5. Cyril Langevine, Rhode Island: The 6-8 forward led the league in rebounding (9.9) as a junior and made the all-defensive team and A-10 second team. He also more than doubled his scoring from 6.1 to 14.7.
6. Justin Kier, George Mason: The 6-4 guard was named the A-10’s most improved player in 2019 and made the A-10 second team. He averaged 14.5 points as a junior. He has 1,034 points in his career.
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7. Jacob Gilyard, Richmond: The 5-9 guard averaged 16.2 points as a sophomore and made the A-10 second team. He was one of Richmond’s two big scorers. Grant Golden ranked third in the conference with 17.2 points per game and made the third team.
8. Hasahn French, Saint Louis: The 6-7 forward, an A-10 third-team selection, has averaged 9.9 points in each of his first two seasons.
9. Kyle Lofton, St. Bonaventure: The 6-3 guard averaged 14.4 points as a freshman and made the A-10 all-rookie team along with teammate Osun Osunniyi. With Fordham’s Nick Honor, who averaged 15.0 points per game, transferring to Clemson, Lofton is the top returning scorer from the A-10’s 2018-19 freshman class.
10. Crutcher: An A-10 third-team selection, he averaged 13.2 points as a sophomore and ranked second in the conference in assists (5.7 per game). He has started 54 games in his first two seasons.
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