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Albuquerque’s Toppert is rising with the Suns

The ice that ran through the veins of Cody Toppert the basketball player stood no chance on prom night 2001.

The Albuquerque Academy senior from one of the city’s first families of hoops had a blind date with Eldorado High star athlete Brittany Cooper, one of the most decorated prep soccer players in state history.

Decked out in his best formal wear, and driving the couple to dinner amid small talk before attending the Eldorado prom (instead of his at Academy), Toppert nervously, and certainly not intentionally, drove through a red light.

“She was like, ‘What are you doing?'” Toppert recalls. “I didn’t know. I just remember rolling through a red light. She was in the car and I was distracted, and nervous, or whatever it was.”

Toppert, luckily, got a second date. And Cooper, his wife now of nine years and mother of their two children, has been a driving force in his rapid ascension through the professional basketball coaching world.

This week, the Phoenix Suns are expected to announce the 35-year-old Toppert as the franchise’s new assistant coach, his first such position in the NBA.

“I’m excited about this opportunity to work with Igor (Kokoskov, the Suns head coach) and this organization,” Toppert said. “And I’m not here without her (Brittany’s) support and because she recognized, while I was still playing, that I should really consider this coaching thing.”

Toppert comes from a basketball family — mom Linda and dad Bob played for the University of New Mexico in the 1970s. Brother Chad Toppert did the same for the Lobos from 2005 through 2009. Cody was a star himself at both Academy and Cornell before an eight-season professional career.

But basketball, and a natural ability to teach and apply statistical analysis to his sport, was what his wife saw in him years ago while the two were globetrotting athletes (Cooper played pro soccer internationally after her college career at Arizona State).

“I majored in applied economics and business management (at Cornell),” said Toppert. “A lot of my good friends are in finance. They’re doing private equity. They’re running investment firms on Wall Street or in San Francisco, or this or that. I could have easily gone that route. But she was the one who gave me that nudge — more than that, she gave me the push I needed to do this and she’s been with me every step of the way.

“That blind date in 2001 changed the trajectory of my life for the best. Here we are now.”

‘The Four Topps’

Linda Toppert, who was known in her Lobo playing days as Linda Haddox, taught the Toppert boys to shoot. And if there’s one thing the Toppert family is known for, it’s shooting.

Bob played for the Bob King and Norm Ellenberger Lobos before marrying Linda after he graduated. The two made their home in Albuquerque and worked in, and eventually took over, her family’s business at Western Building Supply.

And while basketball was always around the family — Bob fondly tells stories of him and his wife going to local parks and beating Lobo players years after the Topperts had graduated from UNM — it was never forced upon the sons.

Both kids starred in high school for coach Mike Brown, are both 1,000-plus-point career college scorers and both played professionally. But dad always had just one rule.

“Butts don’t leave campuses without degrees,” Bob Toppert said. “If they did, I’d beat them up. I told them that. If they had degrees, they could go do their thing and always have the degrees to get them jobs.”

Cody Toppert says the now retired Brown was also a huge influence on his life, “the kind that did so much more than just unlock the gym and roll the balls out for us to shoot.”

Brown still stays in close contact with several of his former players, including NBA head coach James Borrego and now Academy’s newest NBA assistant.

“Cody and I got together for lunch when he was in town a couple years ago and we spent two hours going over his coaching philosophies, and designs to get shooters open in the corners and offensive pick-and-roll plays,” Brown said. “I said, ‘What about the defense?’ He told me he can always get somebody else to coach the defense. I said it was just like high school.”

The offensive mindset didn’t fall far from the tree.

“I’ve always said we aren’t here to block shots. Topperts are shooters,” Bob Toppert said. “That defensive stuff, that’s somebody else’s thing.”

The rising Sun

After his pro playing career, mostly overseas but also with a stop with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, Cody Toppert got into coaching and player development with the Elev8 Sports Institute in 2013.

Aside from being a prep school coach at the Florida-based academy, Cody Toppert also cut his teeth on player development skills. His work with NBA players of varying profiles from the likes of former Lobo Cameron Bairstow to NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving attracted attention. He worked extensively with Tyler Johnson (Fresno State/Miami Heat) and Robert Covington (Tennessee State/Houston Rockets/Philadelphia 76ers), who now own two of the largest contracts in NBA history for undrafted players (Johnson $50 million/four years; Covington $62 million/four years).

Cody Toppert watches video during the 2017-18 season as coach of the Northern Arizona Suns. Toppert, an Albuquerque Academy alumnus, is accepting a position as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. (Chris Costell photo via Cody Toppert)

A year ago, the G-League’s Northern Arizona Suns, hit with an opening just prior to the season, hired Cody Toppert off the staff of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Despite Toppert joining the team one day before the season started — “I had one practice with them” — the team made huge strides from its previous season, especially on offense, including:

  • League-high five players called up to the NBA
  • Franchise-record 23 wins
  • Offensive efficiency rating jumped from 17th in league (1.036) in 2016-17 to third (of 26 teams in the league to 1.107).
  • First in league in 3-point baskets (14.9 per game)

The Suns last month hired Kokoskov, a highly regarded NBA assistant and international head coach whose past stops included a stint as an assistant with the Orlando Magic when Borrego was interim head coach there.

There were no promises made for Cody Toppert to land a job, but he had large roles in the Suns’ NBA Draft workouts over the past couple months, which was a significant task with the franchise holding the No. 1 pick and ultimately using it Thursday on Arizona center Deandre Ayton.

“Player development is big for Suns, and I think that is something they see I can help our young team with,” said Cody Toppert. “What Igor did with (national team) Slovenia last year was amazing. What he helped build in Utah (as a Jazz assistant) was incredible. …

“We have a young team with some great players. We’re going to really strive to close that gap between potential and reality and try to achieve as close to that potential level as we can. And I’m just so lucky to be a part of it.”


Cody Toppert bio blast

Family
Wife: Brittany (Cooper, Eldorado High graduate); daughters: Kinsely (3), Riley (1)

Parents: Linda (Haddox) and Bob Toppert (both former UNM Lobo players in the 1970s)

Brother: Chad Toppert (former Lobo basketball player)

Playing career

2001: Albuquerque Academy graduate

2001-2005: Cornell (top 10 scoring)

2005-2012: 10 professional teams, including Albuquerque Thunderbirds

Coaching/development

2013-15: Elev8 Sports Institute Director of Basketball Development (pro and college player development as well as coaching a prep school team)

2015-17: G-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers (asst.)

2017-18: G-League Northern Arizona Suns (head coach)

2018—: Phoenix Suns assistant

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