Obi Toppin’s fairy-tale path from a thin highschool tweener with no single provide from a four-year school to an N.B.A. lottery pick started with a promise. He made it 4 years in the past to Rodrick Harrison, the basketball coach at Mount Zion Prep close to Washington.
It got here after the frustration of Toppin’s senior yr at Ossining Excessive Faculty in Westchester County, N.Y., when, based on Harrison, Toppin didn’t get even get a scholarship provide from a Division II school. Toppin did have one choice at a junior school, till a mutual good friend recommended that Toppin deserved the prospect at a yr taking part in for Harrison at Mt. Zion in Lanham, Md.
Harrison watched one sport at Ossining and immediately fell in love with Toppin’s capacity and exhausting work. Later that day, the 2 spoke on the telephone.
“He advised me, ‘Coach, when you give me a possibility, I promise I received’t fail,’ ” Harrison recalled throughout a phone interview Thursday. “ ‘I’ll work as exhausting as a I can. I’ll do no matter you want me to do.’ That’s when it clicked for me. When somebody is that humble and so they have that a lot expertise, it’s like he’s a clean canvas.”
Toppin made essentially the most of his one yr at Mt. Zion, parlaying it into a proposal from the College of Dayton in Ohio, the place he performed two seasons, averaged 20 factors per sport in his last yr, after which was drafted by his hometown Knicks with the No. Eight total decide within the N.B.A. draft Wednesday night time.
The Knicks are also anticipated to accumulate Immanuel Quickley, a prime taking pictures guard out of the College of Kentucky who was chosen with the 25th decide by the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder.
It was an uncommon draft, held remotely due to the pandemic, and a number of other gamers had been overwhelmed on the event, together with Toppin. He broke down in tears when he was interviewed on ESPN, each as a result of he was returning to New York — he grew up in Brooklyn — and since he had emerged from nearly whole obscurity to develop into a top-10 decide.
“Listening to my title referred to as is a blessing,” he advised reporters. “Lots of people dream of this, and there’s solely 60 picks, and I used to be a kind of picks.”
When Toppin first walked by way of the doorways at Mt. Zion, he stood 6-foot-5, weighed about 185 kilos and had bother getting the eye of one of the best A.A.U. groups in his space. As we speak he’s 6-foot-9, weighs 220 kilos and is the holder of the 2020 John R. Wood Award for faculty participant of the yr after he led the Flyers to a 29-2 file final season.
He shoots from lengthy vary and midrange, and slashes to the rim, and he’s identified to affect audiences along with his revolutionary and acrobatic dunks.
“I don’t rank his dunks,” stated Anthony Grant, the top coach at Dayton, “however he will certainly excite a crowd along with his explosiveness, selection and showmanship. He’s enjoyable to observe; must-see TV.”
Toppin tried to showcase his expertise for years when few had been watching, so when he does get the chance, he doesn’t squander it. At Mt. Zion, when he had begun the method of stretching one other 4 inches in top and blossoming right into a exceptional participant, he lastly started to attract the eye of faculties across the nation. A gaggle of coaches from state universities like Minnesota and Wyoming got here to observe him follow sooner or later in February 2017. However Toppin had injured the thumb on his taking pictures hand throughout a event the day earlier than. Harrison advised all of the disenchanted coaches to not anticipate a lot.
Toppin practiced anyway and placed on a present by taking pictures left-handed. Harrison stated he went 6 for 8, all along with his off hand.
“That’s unheard-of, proper there,” Harrison stated. “I used to be like, ‘Why didn’t you inform me you may shoot together with your left hand, Obi?’ However he wasn’t afraid to do it.”
By April of that yr, Toppin was nonetheless out there, and that’s when Grant persuaded him to go to Dayton.
Grant recalled a sport final yr at St. Louis, when Toppin had a poor first-half efficiency. The guests’ bench was proper subsequent to the coed part and the scholars had been driving Toppin exhausting because the Billikens took a 13-point lead halfway by way of the second half.
However Toppin was fueled by the taunts. Throughout a timeout, he emphatically advised his teammates that they might not lose the sport. He scored Eight factors within the last 4 minutes of regulation to assist drive additional time, and Dayton received. Nevertheless it was extra than simply the factors: His demeanor and confidence permeated the complete workforce.
“The issues he did to get us to additional time after which win the sport,” Grant stated, “and to have the ability to deal with what was coming at him, that basically impressed me.
Toppin stated he modeled his sport after Anthony Davis, the multi-tooled heart for the Los Angeles Lakers, however acknowledged that he has an extended method to go earlier than he can match Davis as a defensive stalwart.
Protection is certainly the one facet of Toppin’s sport that wants work, however he can be tutored by the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau, probably the greatest defensive coaches within the N.B.A. Loads of protection is about exhausting work and dedication, and Grant stated that when Toppin was at Dayton, he was at all times wanting to study and fast to determine issues out.
“I don’t see Obi being the defensive participant of the yr within the league,” Grant stated. “However I additionally suppose he is usually a nice participant and an asset. He’ll be every part that he’ll must be to assist the Knicks achieve success. I nonetheless suppose he hasn’t scratched the floor.”