Even if you haven’t been to the Pit this season while the crowd is roaring again, you may have thought you could hear distant yells and screams from east of Albuquerque during Lobo basketball games.
You might not be imagining things.
As the UNM men (19-4, 6-4 Mountain West) have been enjoying a breakthrough Year 2 under head coach Richard Pitino, some 650 miles away in the Dallas area, the Toppin family – including 6-foot-8 high school power forward Jadyn Toppin, who signed in November to play at UNM next season – has been thoroughly enjoying every game his future team has played so far.
And Anaya Toppin – the proud mom – seems to be the type that is going to fit right in alongside fans in the Pit.
“I’m one of those who when I see the Lobos playing on TV or see my son playing, I’m yelling,” Anaya Toppin told the Journal this week. “I’m one of those parents. I love the game, so seeing what the Lobos have done and just the transformation they made as a team just makes me more excited. … And just seeing how the Lobos are playing as far as just posting up, just seeing all the places that (Jadyn) can fit into on the Lobos’ defense and their offense right now, it’s exciting for me to see as a mom now and just imagining him when I’m there in the Pit.”
Based on the senior season her son, who goes by “J.T.”, is having for Faith Family Academy in Oak Cliff, Texas, mom won’t be the only one screaming next season.
According to Faith Family Academy coach Brandon Thomas, J.T. Toppin is averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game for the defending Class 4A Texas state champion, which this year is off to a 23-3 start.
The young Toppin says that while watching the Lobos succeed has been fun and helped validate the decision he made even before UNM’s first game this season – he committed after a recruiting visit in September and signed his national letter of intent on Nov. 8 – not much about what he’s been watching on TV has been much of a surprise.
“They’re doing exactly what they said,” J.T. Toppin said. “They said they were going to make a good comeback this season, and watching them do it makes me feel even more confident in the decision (I made) for sure.”
More specifically, the way the Lobos have been playing – emphasizing offense running through the post – has the talented forward excited.
“My best (skill) is posting up and scoring in the post, so when I see them doing that, I’m like ‘Oh, yeah. I can do that for sure,'” he said.
Thomas, who accompanied the Toppins on the September recruiting visit, said the Lobos’ success helps, but wasn’t needed for him to be confident about his star senior’s decision.
“It validated his choice, obviously, but there were a lot of things that the New Mexico basketball program and athletic department did to check the boxes on regardless of how they did this season,” said Thomas.
Of course, when a player has as good a senior season as has Toppin – rated a four-star recruit by 247Sports’ Composite rankings – other colleges take notice. It’s similar to when the Lobos got a for freshman point guard Donovan Dent before he flourished as a high school senior. Despite just a 3-star recruiting ranking, he was selected as Mr. California, the state’s top high school basketball senior.
But, like Dent’s commitment was solid to the Lobos when other schools came at him belatedly, Lobo fans need not worry.
“My decision is strong,” Toppin said. “There’s no going back.”
Added Thomas, “They (other college coaches) check, especially the in-state schools … but they all know they let one get away.”
Thomas also doesn’t think Lobo fans will have to wait long into Toppin’s college career to learn what his game is about.
“I can’t see him not playing (as a freshman),” Thomas said. “… He rebounds. He blocks shots. He runs extremely hard. He’s probably about 210 (pounds) right now. By the time they start (next) season, he should be about 225, 230. He’s gonna play. No question.”