Toppin: Four Games and Already a Fan Favorite

Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard

CATCH MANHATTAN @ URI, WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27 AT 4PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.

The 2019-20 season is just four games old, but Rhode Island Rams freshman Jacob Toppin (6.5ppg, 4.8rpg) is already a fan favorite.

Possessing a mixture of above-the-rim athleticism, ball skills, and fluidity, Toppin is fitting in seamlessly in Kingston. There are adjustments to be made, muscle-mass to be gained, and knowledge to be accrued as the games and seasons pass — all expected for a young freshman. But it’s easy to see why the URI coaching staff was, and is, excited about Toppin’s present and future in Kingston.

Over the summer, Toppin and I enjoyed a lengthy discussion over the phone after his commitment. Postgame after Rhode Island’s 70-65 win over Nicholls State, we connected personally for the first of many conversations we’ll have in Kingston.

Chris DiSano: Four games into your URI career… how are you feeling about your experience here and getting rolling?

Jacob Toppin: It’s great. I love being on the court with my teammates… it’s a great environment to be in and my teammates are always pushing me. We push each other in practice and workouts to our limits. We’re close as a team and we play as a team. That’s why we’ve been successful early on this season.

CD: You talk about the team being close and we’ve heard some of the guys talk about this team being tighter this year. Obviously, you weren’t here previously… but when you’re in a dogfight like you were tonight and you’re down 5 to 7 points, how do you approach staying together in those moments?

JT: I choose to lead as best I can in my role. I’m big on posture, attitude, and mental toughness. So when we’re in a dogfight or the other team goes on a run, I want to be the one, choose to be one of those guys who makes sure everyone is alright and we’re staying together. We need to continue to play through adversity and play for one another.

CD: What’s been the most significant on-court adjustment for you so far in terms of transitioning to play at this level?

JT: Definitely the speed. Right now my shot isn’t falling like I want it to. I’m a shooter but I’m not making enough shots right now because of the speed. I’m sped up at times. That just comes with practice and shooting game reps. I’ll get used to that and things will come naturally.


CD: When we spoke over the summer you talked about having tight hips defensively and needing to work on that. How would you assess your play defensively so far and how you’re coming along?

JT: I think I’m playing pretty good defense. I still need to stay in front of my man and not let them take me off the dribble, but I’ve gotten a lot better since I’ve been there on the defensive side. Our strength and conditioning coach, Chase [Campbell], helps us a lot with our lateral movement and movement in general, so that’s been big for me.

CD: If this Nicholls State team is 11th in their league, I’ll be shocked. They’re a physical, veteran, team. Can you reflect on this win tonight?

JT: This is a big “W” for us because we want to go to Jamaica coming off a win. We don’t want to sulk. And they’re a great team that will do very well in their conference. It will help us out in the long run.

Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard

CD: What do you see your role as for this team as we sit here right now?

JT: An energy guy. I have to come in, provide energy, crash the boards, and have to do everything I can to help the team win. Whether scoring, rebounding, playing defense… I need to be an energy guy on and off the floor.

CD: Because of your athleticism, you’ve quickly become a fan favorite. You must like that, right?

JT: Yeah, it’s nice [smiles].

CD: You made two really solid, underrated decisions tonight leading directly to six points for your team. One was in the first half where you shook a defender off the dribble at the top of the key and found Mekhi Long for a three-pointer. And the next was in the second half where you penetrated from the right wing, had an opportunity to throw up a runner or something similar but instead whipped it cross court to the left wing to Fatts Russell who connected from deep. Can you take us through those possessions and your decision-making?

JT: I’m big on sharing the ball and always want to look for my teammates. If I don’t believe that I have a good opportunity to score then I try to make the right basketball play. On those plays, I saw what made the most sense and made the pass.

URI vs Manhattan

CD: What’s your greatest, early learning that you’ve taken from the upperclassmen?

JT: Definitely mental toughness. We’re always trying to move forward to next play, next possession, as coach always tells us. That’s big to be able to control your frustrations and focus on the next play.

CD: Finally, what are your thoughts on the upcoming trip to, and games in, Jamaica?

JT: I’ve never been out of the country, so I’m excited. I’m excited to play great competition that’s just going to make us better… and to experience being in another country.

CATCH MANHATTAN @ URI, WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27 AT 4PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.

Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 television analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44