Dayton’s Toppin improves draft stock with play at Nike Skills Academy

Dayton’s Obi Toppin competes at the Nike Skills Academy at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Photo by Victor Monaros

Redshirt sophomore forward does the little things to stand out among college stars

Victor Monaros traveled with Obi Toppin to California for the Nike Skills Academy and offered this advice before Toppin competed with and against a group of the nation's top college basketball players and highest-ranked high school prospects — not to mention several NBA players.

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“Remain humble,” said Monaros, Toppin’s godfather and mentor. “Do all the little things. At the same time, feel comfortable out there and do the extra stuff. If everybody’s going to the rim, then go clean it up.”

Toppin cleaned up many missed shots in spectacular style last season as a redshirt freshman forward with the Dayton Flyers. He had a knack for grabbing rebounds out of the air and slamming them home. UD fans know the Toppin highlights well. Now the rest of the world is catching up.

ESPN's Jonathan Givony, who covered the Nike Skills Academy at Kobe Bryant's facility, the Mamba Sports Academy, wrote Toppin would have been the MVP of the event if they handed out awards. That's high praise considering the quality of the talent in attendance. Stars from Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga and other top programs joined Toppin at the event.

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“He had an overwhelmingly positive weekend that firmly catapulted him into the conversation as a first-round draft pick,” Givony wrote. “Toppin doesn’t possess elite size, length or strength for a power forward, but he was arguably the best athlete among the big men in attendance. But the biggest revelation of the weekend was just how good a shooter he is.”

In a 2020 mock draft he published in May, Givony had Toppin being drafted early in the second round, 38th overall. He now says he will bump him up 20 spots.

Another national writer, Sam Vecenie, of The Athletic, wrote on Twitter of Toppin being one of the two best upperclassmen at the event, along with Kansas center Udoka Azubuike.

» PHOTOS: Toppin through the years

Monaros said Rod Strickland and Bruce Bowen, two former NBA players watching the games, complimented Toppin’s play.

“Bruce said he loved the way he played with the NBA players,” Monaros said. “He didn’t try to be the man. Just by him being him, he was able to show what he can do. He just did the little things, and when it was his time, he showed, ‘I can hang with you guys.’”

The Toppin hype has grown since last summer when he excelled against NBA players in a pickup game in New York City. He handled it well in his first season in college basketball, becoming Dayton's first Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and the first A-10 rookie to make the all-conference first team since Rhode Island's Lamar Odom in 1999.

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Monaros isn’t surprised. He said Toppin has always been a humble player and a hard worker, the type of player who raves about the talent around him but has to be reminded he’s as good as anyone.

“Obi, stop saying everyone’s good,” Monaros will tell him. “What about you?”

Monaros, who played at Florida A&M from 2004-07 and is now an associate head coach at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., tries to keep Obi and his brother Jacob, a freshman at Rhode Island, away from the attention that could go their head. He’s also a mentor for Dayton guard Jhery Matos, whose mom is a cousin of Monaros’ mom. Monaros played for the Dominican Republic’s national team and has known Matos since he was a kid.

Monaros said Obi and Matos are similar in their demeanor.

“You could say (Obi’s) the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Monaros said, “and that doesn’t mean anything to him as far as thinking, ‘OK, I made it.’ He’s going to stay humble and keep working. When he comes home, we train all the time. He does the same thing he’s been doing since day one.”

Monaros did not travel with Toppin to any of the five workouts he had with NBA teams in the spring after he declared for the draft. He said Toppin needed to experience that on his own.

» OFFSEASON FEATURE: Toppin says Dayton can compete on biggest stage

However, Monaros said Toppin received great reviews at his workouts despite no assurances he would get drafted if he kept his name in the draft.

“I know a lot of people say he’s under the radar,” Monaros said, “but at the same time, you know when you want that one girl but you don’t want to tell anybody because if you tell someone they might want her. That’s it. He would have got drafted, but no one would say that, and it’s OK. He’s excited to go back to school. He loves Dayton. He loves the fans. He loves everything about Dayton.”

Monaros hopes Toppin plays so well this year he’ll get assurances about being a top-10 or top-15 pick and his stock will be so high it won’t be a hard decision to enter the draft and stay in it.

“If that’s what God puts on the table, then that’s the move he’ll make,” Monaros said. “Other than that, as far as Dayton, it’s a great place to go to school. Great people. Great atmosphere.”

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