Even for someone deeply pained by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, someone the Dayton Flyers star Toppin has called his uncle, godfather and mentor, the COVID-19 crisis has put everything in perspective.
“Right now, what’s important is everyone staying healthy,” Monaros said.
Monaros lives in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. It's where he would have watched the Dayton Flyers and Toppin on March 13 if the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament had not been cancelled a day earlier. It's where he will see Toppin get drafted in June if the NBA is still able to hold its draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
That seems a distant dream right now with so many other pressing issues. However, Toppin continues to prepare for that next step in his basketball journey. He declared for the draft Wednesday and announced a day later he had signed with the Creative Artists Agency, which represents athletes such as Luke Kennard, Zion Williamson and Chris Paul, just to name a few NBA players.
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Toppin planned to work out at Dayton after the season, Monaros said, getting in shape for the NBA with the help of UD men’s basketball strength coach Casey Cathrall and trainer Mike Mulcahey.
“Them guys do a great job,” Monaros said. “We love Mike like he’s family. He’ll tell you I’ve been telling him for a year and a half, wherever we end up, we’re taking him with us.”
Toppin’s next destination is unknown, but for now he’s doing the best he can under the circumstances to stay in shape. Monaros said Toppin has his own apartment — somewhere on the east coast, said Monaros, not wanting to give the specific location — with easy access to a gym.
“If you walk outside to grab the newspaper, that’s where the gym is at,” Monaros said. “There’s a gym he can use by himself. It’s a closed gym. He can get shots up, and they have a weight bench where he can work out on his own. I’ve been in contact with Casey, and before Obi left, he gave him some (stretching) bands so he can stay mobile. Obi will do everything Casey says. He’ll be by himself, but at least he’s able to do something. He’s not sitting in the house, eating potato chips and playing video games. At the same time, we’ve got to make sure Obi is healthy and on the right path.”
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That path seems to be leading to a team picking in the NBA draft lottery. Here’s a sampling of where NBA draft experts think Toppin will land:
BabcockHoops.com: This website predicts Toppin will be drafted third overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. It predicts the Golden State Warriors will take James Wiseman with the first pick, and then the Cleveland Cavaliers will draft Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards.
Rob Dauster, NBC Sports: Dauster predicts Toppin will the fourth overall pick and writes, "Toppin is one of just a handful of players in this 2020 NBA Mock Draft that I believe can make a significant impact in the NBA as a rookie, and given that the top of this draft class is made up of players that are going to be drafted on their potential without having the upside of being a franchise-changing talent, I think there is value in drafting a guy with a rock-solid floor.
247Sports.com: The mock draft has Toppin going to the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 8 pick.
Sam Vecenie, The Athletic: He predicts Toppin will go to the Golden State Warriors with the fifth pick and wrote, "First and foremost, they're looking to compete next year, so getting a polished, skilled player who is already productive has to be appealing. Second, he fits with what they want to do as an unselfish passer, good shooter for a big man and athletic rim runner who can create options around the basket for Stephen Curry and Draymond Green as passers."
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While Toppin did not get a chance to show off his skills on the stage the NCAA tournament would have provided, there’s little doubt he did enough while leading Dayton to a 29-2 record to prove he belongs in the NBA.
“The way he was playing, people don’t understand, Obi is still late blooming,” Monaros said. “He’s still growing up. He has so much to add to his game. It’s scary to me because he hasn’t even scratched the top yet. He’s still progressing. He has showed enough to the world to open their eyes to say, ‘Hey, not only is this kid a great basketball player, but he’s a great person.’ With his basketball skills and his personality, it’s like, ‘Who doesn’t want him around?’”
Even without basketball since Dayton's last game March 7, Toppin's name has often been in the headlines. He keeps picking up national awards. He won national player of the year awards from the Associated Press and the United States Basketball Writers Association last week.
“It’s been a blessing,” Monaros said. “I’m more happy for him because he put the work in. I’ve trained him. Dayton has done a great job. The fans at Dayton have been the sixth man, but at the end of the day, that man had to tie up his sneakers, put on that uniform and go out there and perform. For everything he did, it was well deserved. There was nothing that got handed to him. Every award he received is because the world knew he deserved it. It was not over no hype. It was just like when he went to school. Nobody knew who he he was. He had to go out there and show, ‘I can play at this level.’ He had to go out there and show, ‘I can really do this,’ and the world said, ‘You deserve this.’”