Just a few short weeks after her son had left New York to attend Mt. Zion Prep, Roni Toppin got a phone call. “Mom, I’m going to the NBA.” While the parent of any basketball player would be thrilled to hear these words, the context in which they were said makes them far more meaningful. Obadiah “Obi” Toppin, the son of a renowned Brooklyn street baller of the same name, wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Despite averaging a healthy 19.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game during his senior year at Ossining High, Obadiah Toppin believed he “was too small to get attention from recruiters.” Unfortunately, he was right. By graduation, Obi “did not have a single offer on the table, or even any interest from colleges.” He then made the difficult decision to attend Mt. Zion Preparatory School in Baltimore, Maryland before attending college. During his time in Baltimore, Obi grew 4 inches to 6’9, and gained a staggering 50 pounds, from 170 to 220. Before long, it was clear he had the attention of recruiters.
“Mom, I’m going to the NBA.”
Obadiah gives credit to one of his greatest supporters for helping him make it to Dayton: his mother, Roni. When asked how she felt watching Obi agonize over his lack of college offers, she said she “was really upset that nobody recognized his talent.” As someone who had been to most, if not all, of Obi’s games over the course of his life, Roni “always knew he had talent, and just needed to be seen.” She thought her son “needed to have the right opportunity to showcase his talent, so that the right person could see him and get him in a good position.” She also told her son to “pray about it, ask God for a better future, and trust the process.” Roni, however, was not going to wait around and hope for the best for her son. She “brought him into [New York City] and [got] him on some teams” through people Obi’s father was associated with. Through this, Obi “got a little more exposure” and things really began to pick up for him.
A person is only as strong as their support system. For Obi Toppin, a huge part of his support system is his mother, Roni. She did everything she could throughout his life to make his dream of playing basketball competitively, and soon professionally, a reality. Hours spent driving, or flying, to away games, speaking with contacts to try and get him a shot in front of the right people, and providing him with the much needed moral support a young man needs are all aspects of what Roni Toppin has done to get her son to where he is today. Obi’s trust that God has a plan for him was instilled by his mother, and this belief and attitude will serve him well as he continues his journey.
Obi isn’t alone at Dayton; his coach, Ricardo Greer, knows a thing or two about being supported by strong women. At the age of 13, Ricardo was faced with the pas
sing of his mother, Josefina. His sister Jesse, just a few years older than Ricardo, — and with a child of her own to support — held strong and raised Ricardo and his younger brother Jeff. Their sister was the main caretaker in their lives and they credit her with teaching them strength and character. Ricardo carries what he has learned from his sister into his coaching style, providing his players with both compassion and understanding, and a kick in the ass when necessary. When Ricardo recruited his first player, he didn’t know how special they — or their mother — would come to be to him. When Ricardo met Obi and Roni Toppin, they quickly began building a strong relationship. When speaking to Dribble N’ Dimes for this article, Ricardo remarked that he talked to Roni on the phone three or four times a week, and that Obi had come over to the Greer household for dinner — becoming “part of the family.” Obi’s relationship with Ricardo, and what Roni was able to do to make that relationship grow, increases the strength of Obi’s support system.
Jesse was not the only strong female support in the Greer brothers lives; Jeff recounted on a recent episode of the Dribble N’ Dimes podcast that on the day of his mother’s passing, he had a championship basketball game he was supposed to play in. His mother was still in intensive care but, after informing his aunt of his predicament, she had wise words to say to the child: “You need to go to your game. I know this is what you love to do, go to your game.” Jeff did end up playing in the game, — playing incredibly — and his team won the championship. His mother passed away that night, and his family cried together. Overcoming adversity is one of life’s — and sports’ — greatest challenges, and a strong support system is essential in making it through tough times. Obi Toppin has a strong support system, and this will bode very well for him as he embarks on what many talent evaluators speculate will be a long and prosperous NBA career.