Kentucky basketball – players, coaches and support staff – moved an hour west to Bardstown on Tuesday to host the first in a series of youth camps. About 70 boys and girls attended the opening session at Thomas Nelson High School.
During a question-and-answer period, the kids asked British coach John Calipari to name the tallest player on the team, the strongest player and ultimately the best player.
It got interesting when a kid asked who the better dunker was.
“Jacob Toppin,” Calipari said before adding, “He thinks he’s better than his brother.”
It was saying something since Obi Toppin was the national player of the year in 2019-2020.
When asked a direct question in a post-game interview: did he really think he was better than his brother? – Jacob Toppin gave a straightforward answer.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “I think I have the confidence in myself that I can be better than him. At the moment, I probably am not. But I can definitely be better than my brother.
Toppin admitted there was a difference of opinion within the family. “He probably thinks he’s better than me,” he conceded. “So it’s a competition between us.”
Obi Toppin averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds in his famous second season of 2019-20.
After being transferred to Kentucky from Rhode Island, Jacob Toppin averaged 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds.
He suggested that these modest numbers were just a prelude.
“I’m excited for this,” he said of the better-than-big-brother conversation. “I like the challenge. It’s not pressure because for me, myself, I feel like I’m going to have a year in small groups.
Toppin spoke of working diligently this offseason to improve significantly in 2021-2022. He seemed to prioritize better shot beyond the arc. He made four of 13 three-pointers (30.8%) in his debut season in the UK. He claimed to be a better shot than Obi, who had 41.7% of his three-pointers playing two seasons for Dayton.
Why didn’t Jacob Toppin shoot better last season?
“A little was mental,” he said. “Mentally, I wasn’t there. “
Toppin has said he intends to be more present next season, literally and figuratively.
“I really think I grew, like an inch,” he said. Last season, the UK coincidentally classified him at 6ft 9in the same height shown for Obi.
Calipari took note, Toppin said.
“I came back and Cal looked at me,” said the player. “He’s, like, whoa, did you grow up?”
Toppin also intends to add bulk. The UK has listed its weight at 194 pounds. The New York Knicks say Obi Toppin’s weight is 220.
“This offseason, I plan to gain at least 10 pounds because I need 10 pounds of muscle,” he said. “Then we’ll see how it goes.”
As for the Kentucky squad for next season, Toppin echoed previous player comments on the player mesh. This process was aided by the easing of restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s definitely different,” he said. “Last year we didn’t do anything together. I think that was one of the problems.
“And this year we’re already at (Wildcat Coal) Lodge.
Toppin spoke of a gathering place at the team’s dormitory that includes a ping-pong table, pool table, and big-screen TV.
Toppin conceded that even with COVID-19’s hindsight, a Kentucky team with so many new players will need time to regroup.
“It’s definitely going to take us a while to make that connection (and) build that trust in each other to play better,” he said. “But I think we’ll be good. We’re all getting along great right now, so as time goes by, as we play more together, we’ll have that connection. “
Among the newcomers, freshman Daimion Collins made a positive first impression.
“He plays like Isaiah (Jackson),” Toppin said. “I don’t know if everyone has noticed it. . . . He blocks the shots. He dunk the ball. He’s going to be a great player for us.
Toppin also almost predicted a noticeable improvement in shooting.
“We have a lot more shooters,” he said. “Even the freshmen, they shoot the ball really well. . . . So it’s going to be different. We will be able to space the floor further.
Returning to the kid’s question about Kentucky’s best dunker, Toppin smiled as he said he noticed Calipari had stopped before answering. Toppin saw this as the British coach showing off his playful sense of humor.
“Everyone knows I’m the best dunker,” he said. “He was just playing with me. I know he’s laughing at me. I know I’m the best dunker, and everyone knows I’m the best dunker.
“So I wasn’t really worried about it.”