Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Player of the Year frontrunner Obi Toppin of Dayton looks to God amid coronavirus cancellations

The NCAA made the unprecedented move Thursday to cancel all remaining spring and winter championships — including its postseason men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments — due to the health threat posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19). The abrupt cancellation came just hours after many conferences canceled their own men’s basketball conference tournaments, most of which were already in progress.

College basketball fans around the country lamented the end of the 2020 season without March Madness, without a champion crowned and without an opportunity to watch so many of college basketball’s best players on the game’s biggest stage.

One of those players was Obadiah “Obi” Toppin, a redshirt sophomore big man for the Dayton Flyers who was widely considered the front-runner for the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year.

Up until the cancellation, Toppin had helped Dayton to the best season in school history with a 29-2 overall record, their only two losses coming in November and December to Kansas and Colorado, respectively. Dayton was 18-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference as of Thursday, No. 3 in the country and primed to gain a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Almost certainly, the Flyers would have been seeded higher than when they earned a No. 4 seed in 2003, the highest in the school’s history.

“It’s so sad,” Obi’s mother, Roni Toppin, told the Dayton Daily News after the cancellation of the NCAA and A-10 Tournaments. Her sons Obi and Jacob (a freshman forward at Rhode Island, another Atlantic 10 school) would have to cope with their season ending early.

In the immediate aftermath of the devastating news, Toppin looked to God. He retweeted a post on Friday by Pastor Westley West, the founder and senior pastor of Faith Empowered Ministries in Baltimore, Md.

According to Toppin himself in an article for Athletes for God, he said he developed a closer relationship with Christ during a trying time in his life. He was only a 6-foot-5 forward when he was being recruited in high school — not big by Division-I basketball standards. Toppin had to trust in God’s plan for his life, and he enrolled at Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore for the 2016-2017 season.

“It was hardly the traditional route to a scholarship,” Toppin said in the article, “but I just talked to God every single day, hoping He would lead me in the right direction.”

He impressed at Mt. Zion, and even as scholarship offers from Power 5 schools finally began to pour in, Toppin followed God’s leading and enrolled at Dayton.

As the Dayton program has been on its rapid rise, Toppin said the team has bonded through a team huddle and prayer before each game. He also says his own personal prayer during the National Anthem.

Toppin even sometimes shares his faith in Christ on social media:

Toppin spent three seasons in Dayton overall. He redshirted in 2017-2018 and averaged 14.4 points in 26.5 minutes per game last year. He declared for the NBA Draft at the end of the season, but did not hire an agent and decided to return. This season, he has been one of the best players in the country since November. He won the A-10 Player of the Year award, averaging 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 39.0 percent from 3-point range and 63.3 percent overall, and he probably will be an All-American.

The NCAA’s early cancellation has been felt throughout the country. It also means that Obi Toppin’s college career may be over. With two years of eligibility still remaining, the 6-foot-9, 22o-pound forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., has another decision to make. He would likely be a top-10 pick in June’s 2020 NBA Draft if he decides to turn pro.

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