It’s great to see someone you coached make it to the big time.
Sometimes, the excitement makes it hard to describe how that feels.
“It means so much,” said Ossining Pride basketball coach Mike Casey, about one of his former players, Obi Toppin, being drafted in November by the New York Knicks. “I am almost speechless, in a sense.”
Amping up the excitement for Coach Casey, as well as all of Ossining, and local fans in general, is that Obadiah Richard Toppin was the overall No. 8 pick in the first round of the 2020 National Basketball Association draft.
“We are so proud of what he has done,” said Coach Casey, “and of all his accomplishments.”
Those accomplishments for the 6’ 9” power forward, out of the University of Dayton (Ohio), include being named the 2020 National College Player of the Year and Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year, as a redshirt sophomore. In 2019, as a redshirt freshman, he was Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. (Redshirt players have sat out a year without sacrificing eligibility to still play four years of college ball.)
This past season at Dayton, he averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, both team highs. The Flyers finished 29-2 overall and 18-0 in the Atlantic 10.
Until Covid canceled the spring 2020 edition of March Madness, Dayton was in prime position to be chosen as one of the top four seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Ossining Athletic Director James Dennett was thrilled about Toppin making it to the bright lights of New York City.
“The school district is elated that Obi made it to the ‘big time’ in New York,” Dennett said. “He has worked so hard to get to where he is today. He is a great a player and an even better person. He is a role model for how to play and live life, with grace and appreciation for all those who have helped him become an NBA player.”
Dennett expects plenty of people from Ossining to make the short trip to Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan to watch Obi and the Knicks, which in recent years have needed all the help on the court they can get.
“Ossining will be sporting the Toppin Knick [No. 1] jersey,” Dennett said. “Knicks’ attendance from the Westchester region will definitely increase.”
Coach Casey was a captain and a guard at Hendrick Hudson High School in Cortlandt (Class of 1996), where he played against long-time NBA standout Elton Brand of Peekskill. Casey believes it won’t take too long for Toppin to win over Knick fans hungry for new star power.
“I’m excited, as most Knick fans are,” Casey said. “I know we need the point-guard position to be filled, but with Obi’s personality, his hard work, and his determination, I really feel that Knick fans are going to gravitate towards him, and love and support him, like they do, with any hard-working player. Just being a long-time New Yorker, and Obi, being originally from Brooklyn, the city is just going to surround him, and love him, as one of their own.”
Dennett, like many others in Ossining, is thrilled that Toppin has taken his A game to the NBA.
“Obi is a professional athlete who will always remain true to who he is — humble and grateful,” Dennett said. “I had the privilege to watch him grow, as a student and athlete. Ossining is full of pride for him and his family.”
Casey coached Toppin his 2016 senior year at Ossining. Toppin helped the Pride to a 17-5 overall record and 9-1 league mark, while averaging 19.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
“Obi was a big part of our success,” Casey said. “My first year of coaching at Ossining was one of the highest win totals (17) for a season in program history. We hadn’t been league champs in more than a decade, and he led us to that [title game].
Casey has appreciated “the messages and the outpouring that I have gotten, not only from coaches in the area, but from former players, which is, as a coach, the most important. Just to hear what fond memories they have, not only of Obi, but, obviously, of that season.”
Casey vividly remembers the type of player Toppin was that season.
“Obi was a very athletic player for us,” Casey said. “He was a slasher, who could easily get to the rim. He was most comfortable on the perimeter, where he shot close to 50 percent beyond the [three point] arc.”
In between Ossining and Dayton, Toppin attended Mt. Zion, a prep school in Baltimore.
“When he left Ossining, no D1 [Division 1] offers — two colleges were after him, but nothing big-time,” Casey said. “He and his family had connections at Mt. Zion, and it ended up being a wonderful fit.”
Obi isn’t the only Toppin who has gone on to Division 1 college basketball. His younger brother Jacob Toppin, a 2018 Ossining graduate who was an All-Conference player for the Pride, is now a sophomore forward at the University of Kentucky.
“They are both late bloomers, they are both similar players,” Casey said. “What I am expecting to see out of Jacob at Kentucky is the same thing we saw develop out of Dayton with Obi.“
Mike Sabini is a freelance writer based in Northern Westchester.