Obi Toppin didn’t get much of a chance to prepare for his rookie season because of the pandemic. Drafted with the No. 8 pick in late November, Toppin was in Knicks training camp on Dec. 1.
Now he’s got time. And he’s making the most of it. Oh, is he ever. And Toppin is certain his second campaign won’t resemble his rookie season.
After the first-round elimination by Atlanta, Toppin took four days off and came back to the Tarrytown campus for workouts. Soon after, he got a surprising invite to the U.S. Select Team to compete this week against the Olympic Team in Las Vegas. In August, also in Sin City, Toppin will compete in his first summer league.
Speaking from Vegas on Zoom after a second practice against the Olympians on Wednesday, Toppin sounded beside himself.
“The message, [the coaches] told me coming here is just be a sponge,’’ Toppin said. “There’s great coaches and players out here and just get better and develop my game. I’m working really hard in this offseason to be better for my second season coming up. It’s going be a lot different than the first season.’’
Circumstance and making the adjustment from mid-major Dayton played a role in Toppin’s modest rookie campaign, when the Brooklyn native averaged just 11 minutes. Toppin, 23, plays the same power-forward position as Julius Randle, whose season and minutes exploded.
Next season might be Toppin Time.
“It’s amazing,’’ Toppin said of his offseason opportunity. “I‘m not going to say I had the best rookie year. But for me to have the opportunity to come out here and be part of USA and help prepare the Olympic guys for their time in Tokyo, to have that opportunity is amazing and I wouldn’t change it for the world.’’
Toppin’s rookie year was so up and down, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau pondered whether to reduce his minutes in the playoffs. But with Randle struggling in the postseaon, Toppin got some run — and looked perfectly juiced and more composed than Randle.
After a couple of his high-flying put-back and alley-oop dunks against Atlanta, the Garden crowd erupted in deafening chants of “O-Bi!” It might’ve been the best part of the first-round series in which the Knicks were routed, 4-1.
“I feel the playoffs was definitely a confidence-booster,’’ Toppin said. “I felt myself getting better. But it was the work I was doing every single day before that. My teammates had confidence in me and confidence I could do what I had to do.’’
The coaching staff felt Toppin was hurt more than many rookies by not having a summer league before his rookie year because he played in the smaller Atlantic 10 Conference against schools such as Fordham.
“I’m definitely looking forward to summer league to get an opportunity to showcase what I’ve been working on,’’ said Toppin, who shot just 30.6 percent from 3-point range. “Me and Quick and everyone else playing, we are going to do great.’’
The 2020 National College Player of the Year is in Vegas with teammate and fellow rookie Immanuel Quickley, and they have staged a pingpong tournament for the Select players. The prospects will face the Olympians all week.
“I was super excited to have opportunity to come out here work out with these guys,’’ Toppin said. “It’s the best players in the world on this Olympic team. Having the opportunity to learn under the coaches here and playing with these players, I’m learning a lot and I’m going to translate it into my game for the upcoming season.’’