Upon his initial analysis of his No. 8 draft pick, Obi Toppin, New York Knicks president Leon Rose opined that the Dayton product was a “high-character individual with a tremendous work ethic,” injecting further youth and professionalism into the rebuilding side’s ranks.
Those off-court praises about his mentality only continued alongside his high-flying ability above the rim and All-American status on Monday, the same day he signed a rookie deal with the Knicks and immediately reported to team facilities to work.
Actions speak louder than words, always, but Rose’s sentiments were further echoed on Monday morning when Toppin’s college head coach at Dayton, Anthony Grant, spoke with MSG Network’s MSG AM.
“He wants to please. He wants to be great,” Grant said. “So whatever [head coach Tom] Thibodeau and his staff are asking him to do, he’s a guy from Day 1 who’s bought in.”
Almost immediately, it was clear that the Knicks were drafting a humble talent — once overlooked at Dayton before winning the John Wooden Award last season — who relished being drafted by his hometown team.
“I’m from New York, that’s why it’s important,” Toppin said through tears on draft night. “Me repping my city, it’s amazing. A lot of people pray to be in this position, and I’m not going to take it for granted. I promise you that.”
While he was one of college basketball’s most popular and recognizable players last year, averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game with the Flyers, Grant expects Toppin to check his non-existent ego at the door upon his arrival to Knicks facilities.
Such a mindset will only help the 22-year-old make it in New York as a major shortcoming of his game — his defense — is expected to be worked on by Thibodeau and the Knicks’ coaching staff.
“He’s not one of those guys that walks in thinking he’s got it all figured out already,” Grant said. “Listen, he’s heard the criticism that he needs to get better defensively. He’s heard it from me, he’s heard it from our staff, he’s heard it now that he’s in the position that he’s in, in terms of his ability to change a game… What about what he can do? Let’s look at the opportunity now that this is his job and what he’ll be doing full time: Studying the game, playing against the best players in the world. He’ll answer the bell, I’m confident he will.”
With less than a month to go before the start of the 2020-21 NBA season, Toppin’s versatility has him in the running to start at either the small forward or power forward spot for the Knicks depending on what Rose does with the roster over the next few weeks.