Obi Toppin (cover photo) has emerged as UD men’s basketball’s star player. Courtesy of Griffin Quinn
The University of Dayton’s men’s basketball team is starting to get a lot of buzz in preparation of the 2019-20 season. New names are lining the roster from all of the transfers that are eligible to play this season. There has even been talk that, on paper, this Dayton basketball team could be one of the best in the program’s history.
Even with all the new faces, the new arena and high expectations, the talk around these Flyers always comes back to one man – there’s a reason that scouts for more than 20 NBA teams have been in Dayton, and it’s not because of Bill’s Donuts. Obi Toppin is turning heads.
Coming into his senior year of high school, it wasn’t a done deal that Toppin would be a college player at all. He was a late bloomer, growing three inches from his junior to senior year at Ossining in New York. He spent a year at Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore, growing four more inches and earning a basketball scholarship at Dayton.
Toppin’s first year as a Flyer was spent in street clothes, cheering on his teammates from the bench.
“Yeah it was hard,” Toppin said. “I knew what came with it, so I just fought through every day.”
Flyer fans didn’t get to see any of Toppin in his true freshman year, but before he even stepped on the court, fans were starting to get excited. Whispers of Toppin dominating scrimmages started to get out as soon as practices began last season.
When the season began, veteran forward Josh Cunningham was a late scratch from the opening day starting lineup because of an injury, thrusting Toppin into a starting role sooner than everyone expected. He didn’t disappoint.
In his first moments of college action, Toppin slammed home an emphatic dunk, one of his four in just the first half. He finished the night with the team-high 18 points.
This game was indicative of the rest of Toppin’s season. He eventually won the starting job on his own accord, and finished the season averaging 14.4 points-per-game. As for the dunks? Those kept coming as well. Toppin dunked 83 times last season, crushing Dayton’s single-season record (66, set by Chris Wright in 2010).
His strong season was rewarded, as Toppin was named the Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year and first-team all conference.
“As a freshman last year, Obi really set the bar for what he was able to accomplish,” head coach Anthony Grant told Jake Schwartz at the A-10 media day.
After the season, Toppin dipped his toes into the NBA water, declaring for the draft. He later withdrew from the draft process, opting to return to Dayton.
“After going through this process, consulting with my family and receiving positive feedback, I feel we have unfinished business here at UD,” Toppin said in an Instagram post this summer.
This summer, after the draft, the Toppin hype boiled over into the mainstream. Obi was one of the 28 returning college players invited to attend the Nike Skills Academy in August. The talent that amazed the Flyer faithful all season had a similar effect on the scouts watching the camp.
Toppin catapulted his NBA stock based on his performance at the camp, with many saying he was one of the most impressive players in attendance. In late September, Toppin was projected as the 24th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft by ESPN.
“Dayton power forward Obi Toppin moved up 20 spots to No. 24 after his performance at the Nike Skills Academy, which would have won him camp MVP had that award been handed out,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote.
If Toppin gets taken in the NBA Draft next summer, he would join forward Kostas Antetokounmpo (drafted 60 overall in 2018) as the only two Flyers drafted since 1990. If he were taken in the first round, like some mock drafts are projecting, it would make him the third all-time Flyer picked in the first round, and the first since Jim Paxson in 1979.
Obi is encroaching on rarefied air.
In 20 practices, as of Oct. 29, scouts from 22 of the 30 NBA teams have come to watch Dayton. It’s no secret that Obi is their focus, but he said it hasn’t affected his game.
“A lot of scouts have been coming to see us play, and we’ve been able to put a show on for them,” Toppin said. “I don’t really feel pressure, I just play my game.”
His teammates echo the sentiment.
“He’s really humble, he doesn’t let it get to him,” senior guard Trey Landers said. “At the end of the day he still has to perform, and I think he gets that. He doesn’t get into the media and stuff much, which is what I love about him.”
It’s not just NBA scouts taking notice, Toppin is receiving praise from the college basketball media as well. Toppin was named to the Preseason All-Conference First Team in the A-10. He was also one of the 20 players named to the watch list for the Karl Malone Award, which is given to college basketball’s best power forward at the end of every season.
Amongst all the attention, Toppin is remaining focused.
“The team we have this year is amazing,” Toppin said. “I’m just focused on what we need to accomplish.”
For more sports news, follow @FlyerNewsSports on Twitter