Brooklyn native getting buzz as a national player of year candidate
Obi Toppin arrived at the University of Dayton in the spring of 2017 as an under-the-radar recruit. Three years later, he became the consensus national player of the year and an expected top-10 NBA Draft pick. He’ll find out Wednesday night where he’ll begin his pro career.
Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the former Dayton Flyers star:
1. Early days: Toppin was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent time in high school in Florida. He played his freshman season at Heritage High in Palm Bay and the following year at Melbourne Central Catholic. After that, he, his mom Roni and his younger brother, Jacob, moved back to New York and eventually settled in Ossining, north of New York City. Obi played two seasons at Ossining High. As a senior, he averaged 20.6 points and 8.1 rebounds a game.
2. Basketball roots: Obi's dad, Obadiah, played for the legendary New York City team, the Gauchos, but did not play college basketball. He played for a while with the Brooklyn Kings in the USBL and the Harlem Strong Dogs in the ABA and then played pro in the Dominican Republic.
“My dad took me under his wing when I was younger and took me to parks with him,” Obi said in 2018. “They called me Second Generation.”
3. Late bloomer: Toppin was 6-2 as a sophomore and 6-5 as a senior. He battled knee pain as a junior in his first season at Ossining because he was growing so fast.
Michael Casey, who was the junior varsity coach and then became Ossining’s varsity coach when Toppin was a senior said in 2017, “I really didn’t know what I was going to get from (Toppin). He ran for an AAU program on the east coast and did very well and started a making a name for himself and then he came back to us for the summer and he was a completely different player. He was healthy. He could run the floor. He could go inside-out.”
4. Prep school: Toppin had one scholarship offer from Monroe College, a junior college in New York, during his senior year, so he decided to attend prep school at Mount Zion Academy in Baltimore, Md.
Toppin grew another four inches at Mt. Zion, reaching 6-9. He averaged 17 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists and started earning more attention from college scouts.
5. Becoming a Flyer: Georgia was the first major program to offer Toppin a scholarship. He took official visits to Dayton and Rhode Island and unofficial visits to Georgetown and Fordham. His mom and godfather, Victor Manaros, joined him for the trip to Dayton in April 2017. He toured campus and UD Arena like every recruit who comes to town.
“I’ve never seen a college gym like that,” Toppin said.
Toppin announced his commitment to Dayton on May 16, 2017. He was the second recruit signed by Anthony Grant, who was hired that March. Jalen Crutcher was the first.
6. Redshirt season: Toppin was declared an academic redshirt by the NCAA and sat out the 2017-18 season. He practiced with the team all season but did not travel to road games.
"I've sat out this year and learned a lot," Toppin wrote on Instagram after the team's season ending. "I'm gunna miss you (Darrell Davis) and (Joey Gruden). I wish I could have played with ya. But now the time has come, the moment I've been waiting for my whole life. I'm finally going to be able to play with my brothers!!"
7. Postseason honor: Without scoring a point during his redshirt season, Toppin made an impact by becoming a cheerleader on the bench during home games. He won the team's Dr. George Rau Spirit Award after the season.
It was the first time a non-active player won the award. According to a Dayton press release, Toppin “took it upon himself to bring a positive attitude to the team every time the Flyers were on the court. This was evident in games when fans could see him, but also on the practice court. Not only did Toppin improve his own game in preparation for next season during practice, he made his teammates better by pushing them every day.”
8. Debut season: Toppin lived up to the hype in his first season on the court in college basketball. He averaged 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds as a redshirt freshman. He was named to the All-Atlantic 10 first team. He was the first rookie to earn that honor in 20 years. He also became the first Dayton player to win the A-10 Rookie of the Year Award.
9. Dunking talents: In his first season on the court, Toppin set the school records for dunks in a game (10) and in a season (83). He even created a viral moment with a between-the-legs dunk against Georgia Southern. Toppin did that dunk again in his final game March 7 at Dayton. He finished his career with a school-record 190 dunks.
10. Exploring options: Toppin announced in April 2019 he would enter his name in the draft while maintaining his eligibility. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine but worked out for a number of NBA teams in May: Utah Jazz (May 23); Atlanta Hawks (May 20); Boston Celtics (May 11); Cleveland Cavaliers (May 8); and San Antonio Spurs (May 4). He withdrew from the draft in late May, citing the the potential of the Dayton roster as one reason he decided to stay in school.
“I’m definitely excited,” Toppin said. “Like I said when our season ended, our team is stacked. We have a team that starts, and we have another starting team that’s coming off the bench, so when our first five gets tired, our next five is going to be ready. I’m excited to play with them. All of them are my brothers. I greatly appreciate I get to play another year with them.”
11. Building buzz: In the summer of 2019, Toppin attended the Nike Skills Academy at Kobe Bryant’s facility, the Mamba Sports Academy. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote Toppin would have been the MVP of the event if they handed out awards. That was 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.
Toppin’s mentor, Victor Monaros, accompanied him to the event.
“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.”
12. Breakout performance: Toppin led Dayton to a runner-up finish at the Maui Invitational in November 2019, and his draft stock reached a new level as he excelled on a national stage.
“No opponent has had an answer for Toppin so far,” Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman wrote. “Georgia and Virginia Tech looked helpless in Maui. He’s returned a more decisive scorer and passer from the post and a confident three-point shooter. Between his power and athleticism, back-to-the-basket game and projectable jump shot, Toppin has quickly developed into one of the draft’s most convincing offensive big men.”
13. Final season: In his second season, Toppin won all the major national player of the year awards and became the first Dayton player to win the A-10 Player of the Year Award. He helped lead Dayton to a 29-2 season and a No. 3 national ranking. Toppin averaged 20.0 points in his final season at UD and finished his career with 1,096 points.
Toppin made the announcement, which has been expected by everyone who saw his draft stock rise all season, with a video on Twitter. He had two years of eligibility remaining, but at 22, he was the age of a college senior. There was no doubt he would turn pro.
“I believe it is time to start the next chapter in my journey,” he said. “I would like to share the news with you guys that I will be signing with an agent and forgoing my college eligibility to enter my name into the NBA Draft.”
15. Pro prospects: Toppin is guaranteed to be Dayton’s first first-round pick since Jim Paxson was taken with the 12th overall pick in 1979. To be the highest-drafted player in UD history, Toppin would have to go in the top five. John Horan was drafted sixth overall by the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1955.
While everyone thinks Toppin will be a lottery pick, whether he goes in the top three or falls out of the top 10, is up for debate. The most likely destination for him, according to draft experts, is Cleveland. The Cavaliers have the No. 5 pick.