2020 NBA Draft: Getting to Know Obi Toppin
Prospect research associate for Babcock Hoops, Grant Aqui, took a deep dive into learning about prospect Obi Toppin from the Dayton Flyers. He shared what he learned about Toppin’s story from initially being an unheralded high school player, emerging to being the top player in college basketball, and now a likely top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
On the surface, at 6’9” with a chiseled 220-pound frame, electric athleticism coupled with All-American production on one of the best teams in the NCAA, one would assume that Obi Toppin has always been a surefire can’t-miss prospect. However, that is not the case. Surprisingly, Toppin was a late bloomer. Born in Brooklyn, New York to parents Roni and Obadiah, the younger Toppin’s journey up and down the Eastern Seaboard is a winding one. Obi’s father, Obadiah “Big O” Toppin, is a New York native and local streetball legend who grew up playing AAU basketball with the vaunted NY Gauchos. Obadiah played in a handful of semi-pro basketball leagues, including the defunct USBL’s Brooklyn Kings, after competing at the JuCo level with the also defunct Globe IT. Obi’s mother, Roni, is a teacher who works frequently with autistic students. Roni is a self-described “Italian mom who makes sure her sons eat.” As it is well documented, the other son in question is Obi’s younger brother, Jacob Toppin. Toppin, an incoming Kentucky transfer, spent his freshman year competing against Obi in the A-10 with Rhode Island University.
As alluded to earlier, Obi’s upbringing was a bit of an arduous one. Growing up, Toppin was an extremely active, rough-and-tumble kid. “Obi was always doing backflips or popping wheelies on his bike or leaping off jungle gyms. This often led to trips to the emergency room; Obi broke that same arm at least three times, fractured both wrists, suffered all sorts of cuts and bruises. No injury ever stopped him from trying another crazy stunt. He was a real daredevil. He would have jumped out of a plane if he could have,” Roni said in an interview. Obi also spent a lot of time growing up going to parks with his dad to hone his craft in the Mecca of basketball. Obi allegedly gets his leaping ability from his father and grew up modeling his game after him. Obi’s mother moved the boys down to Melbourne, Florida from their Bushwick, New York home to help out with the older Obadiah’s family. As a result of the move to the sunny shores of Florida, Obi would attend Heritage High School in Palm Bay, Florida (an important distinction amongst Floridians from athletic powerhouse American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida). In his sophomore year, he attended Melbourne Central Catholic High School. At both stops, Toppin, standing only around 6’0” at the time, would fail to play on the varsity squad for each team, which highlights his dramatic late-blooming. Obi, his mother, and younger brother left Florida and returned back to New York after his parents split up. Obi landed at Ossining High School in Westchester, New York as a skinny 6’2” junior. That year, Toppin again did not make the school’s varsity roster, despite all of his natural gifts. Heading into his senior year, Obi returned to Ossining three inches taller but still lacked bulk. Finally, ascending to the varsity level, Obi logged over 20 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in his lone varsity season. It should be noted that the level of competition that Toppin played at was not held in high regard, as it is a far cry from the prestigious Catholic High School Athletic Association often associated with New York high school basketball. As a result of the low level of notoriety and general exposure for the league, Obi’s recruitment was underwhelming to say the least, as he completed his high school career with zero division-1 offers.
Obi’s only opportunity to play college basketball would come from Monroe College, a local junior college. Obi’s godfather, Victor Manaros, recommended he spend a year at a prep school. Manaros was familiar with Mt. Zion Prep located in Baltimore, Maryland. Obi listened to Manaros and headed south to Maryland to play for the Warriors. In his time in the 410 area code, Toppin grew another four inches and registered a 17, 8, and 4 stat line. As a result of his efforts and new height found during his prep year, Toppin accumulated interest from Illinois, Rhode Island, Mississippi State, Georgetown, and of course, Dayton. Toppin took the visit to Dayton, under the belief that he was going to Daytona, Florida instead of Dayton, Ohio. “When I was getting on the plane to come out here, the board said Dayton, Ohio. I thought I was going to Daytona, Florida. I’m looking at it and finally, I call Coach (Ricardo) Greer. I was like, ‘Aaaahhh…it says I’m going to Ohio, not Florida!’ And he says, ‘Yeah, the school’s in Ohio.’ I was like ‘Aw snap… Dang!’” Toppin said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. Toppin would commit to the Flyers a few weeks after his official visit in May of 2017.
Upon his arrival in Ohio, Toppin ran into another tribulation, as he was deemed a Prop 48 academic non-qualifier and was forced to take a redshirt year. During his redshirt season in Dayton, Toppin would participate in practice with the scout team. According to those I spoke with, Toppin routinely went against future second-round pick Kostas Antetokounmpo and more than held his own against the school’s first draft pick in nearly two decades. More importantly during his freshman year, Toppin would rehabilitate his GPA and be ready for the 2018-2019 season. During his redshirt freshman season, Toppin would step right in and lead the team in scoring while helping the Flyers to a 3rd place finish in the A-10. Obi also showed off a wide arsenal of his now-signature dunks. Toppin took some heat for doing an in-between-his-legs dunk in a close game against Georgia Southern. “He (Coach Grant) said to make sure the next time you look at the clock and see the situation we were in. I didn’t even know it was a close game. He just said be mindful of the score and the time.” Obi registered averages of 14.5 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and 2 assists while shooting over 66% from the field (first in the A-10). For his efforts, Obi was named to the All-Atlantic 10 freshman team, A-10 Rookie of the Year, and 1st team All-Atlantic 10 (the only freshman to earn such honors). Following a solid freshman year, Toppin elected to enter his name in the 2019 NBA Draft. After failing to receive an invite to the NBA Draft Combine, he withdrew his name to return to Dayton for his sophomore season. That summer, Obi participated in the prestigious 2019 Nike Skills Academy. There, he would begin to hit the radar more prominently as a legitimate draft prospect, as he held his own against guys like Kira Lewis Jr., Reggie Perry, Tyrese Haliburton, and numerous highly touted players.
That momentous summer fed right into what would be a flat-out dominant campaign in 2019-2020, punctuated yet again by numerous high-flying dunks and even more winning. Coming into the season, Obi was a well-known name amongst NBA personnel as well as civilian draft fanatics, but similarly to Anthony Edwards, his performance at the Maui Invitational in November thrust Toppin’s name into the national spotlight. At the Thanksgiving tournament, Obi posted averages of 22 points, 7 rebounds, and over 1 block per game, including an impressive 18-point outing against the top-ranked blue-blood Kansas Jayhawks, in which the Flyers pushed the perennial powerhouse to overtime before falling by 6 points. Despite struggles handling the massive Udoka Azubuike (which highlighted many of the struggles he will have sliding to a small-ball center), Toppin stood out in Anthony Grant’s NBA style offense on a floor full of 5-star recruits and All-American talent. Babcock Hoops’ NBA draft analyst Matt Babcock was in attendance at the Maui Invitational to evaluate Toppin in November and wrote the following after the event:
“Prior to my trip to Maui, I was extremely high on Toppin, perhaps higher than most, as I had him at number thirteen on the Babcock Hoops Mock Draft. Truth be told, I needed Toppin to step up so I could save face. I entered the Maui Invitational certainly eager to see if top-rated prospect Anthony Edwards was everything he was hyped up to be, but also just as eager to confirm that my previous evaluations on Toppin were accurate.”
“Aside from Anthony Edwards’ huge second half versus Michigan State, Toppin was the talk of the town among the NBA scouts in Maui. His collective performance throughout the tournament surely relieved my stress that I had possibly ranked him too high. However, I had a different problem now: I wasn’t sure I had him ranked high enough.”
Following the tournament, Dayton casually tore through a rather tepid out of conference schedule, winning their games by an average margin of just under 19 points per game with Obi posting 17, 8, and 3 while often sitting out large portions of the second halves. In conference play, Obi turned it on and blazed through the A-10 scoring 20 points per game and posting a ridiculous 68% true shooting percentage. Obi led the Flyers to a perfect 18-0 record in conference play and the most wins in school history at 29-2. Obi swept all the national awards, including the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, and was named a consensus All-American. Unfortunately, as is the tale for the rest of the NCAA, Dayton was unable to get their shot at a national championship, as March Madness was canceled due to COVID-19. Speaking with those around the team, it probably stung a little bit more than it did for Blue Blood programs, as this was Dayton’s best season in school history.
Following the season that was cut short, Toppin entered his name in the 2020 NBA Draft and signed with the power agency CAA, foregoing his remaining college eligibility. There have been a variety of opinions on how Obi Toppin’s game translates to the NBA, but he has established himself as one of the most coveted prospects in this year’s draft. Regardless of where he ends up, there is no denying that Obi has worked extremely hard to get to this point. All eyes will be on Toppin on November 18th to see where the next chapter begins in his roller-coaster story. I can safely say one thing: don’t expect him to be on the board long.