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Cody Toppert played basketball at and earned a degree from an Ivy League school. He also learned a lot about basketball overseas.
And Toppert, a former standout at Albuquerque Academy and Cornell University, is now applying that knowledge at ELEV8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla., where he is director of basketball operations.
Toppert has myriad duties at ELEV8: He recruits for and coaches the prep school, runs an NBA pre-draft program and has worked with many current NBA players, including Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Boston’s Marcus Smart and former Lobo Cameron Bairstow. Last year, he trained five of the 60 players invited to the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago.
Toppert is gaining a reputation as one of the top basketball trainers in the world.
Back problems ended Toppert’s playing career in 2012 after a career at Cornell and eight professional seasons overseas. Even though he couldn’t play anymore, Toppert knew he wanted to stay in basketball.
“I was trying to figure out what the next step was going to be,” Toppert said. “I’ve always been training. I trained my brother (Chad, a former New Mexico Lobo), I trained myself, I trained a lot of other guys throughout the years. That’s kind of how I was able to separate myself as a player. It was never based on God-given athletic ability. It was more or less based on work ethic and doing all the required and necessary work.”
Toppert, whose degree from Cornell is in applied economics and business management, began training in the Dallas area. There, he directed the Texas Hoops Combine and made a big enough name for himself that ELEV8 came calling.
“I was able to build up a great following out there,” Toppert said. “Things were going really good. I was training elite level high school players and college players. Then ELEV8 Sports Institute came and started talking about starting a program that would be similar in its basis on the basketball side to its baseball program. I went down there two years ago and hit the ground running.”
Toppert built what is now known as the Ganon Baker Basketball Academy from scratch, using what he learned overseas as the foundation.
“Our model is not just based around games and practices and bringing in talent,” Toppert said. “It’s based around the same stuff the NBA guys hire us for, which is making them better basketball players.
“We really run a European model. I played for eight years professionally in Europe. Really, what you’re exposed to over there, you do two practices a day, every day, and you usually play one or two games a week if you’re lucky. Their practice-to-game ratio is so extreme that they spend a lot of time actually working on the actual skills of the game.
“What we wanted to do with this program is establish it in that same light. So our guys get up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to a training session, go to class, go to another training session, and a weight session. We do more skills work because we’re not restricted by how much we can practice and how long.”
That model has been a boon for Toppert and ELEV8. In just his second year, Toppert has 55 kids in the prep school program, which is divided up into five teams. ELEV8 Red beat the No. 1 prep team in the country, Oak Hill Academy, in an October exhibition.
“I’m really proud that I’ve had the opportunity to come down here where there was no blueprint on how to start a prep school program,” Toppert said. “When I came down here, there was no basketball program. To see where it has come in two years has been absolutely incredible. We’re going in the right direction. It’s been a whirlwind but perhaps it was meant to be.”
Toppert recruits for the prep school the same way college coaches fill their teams: through word of mouth and by using his extensive basketball contacts to find the right players for his program.
His goal isn’t just to win games though. Toppert wants to help players gain notoriety and catch the eye of some Division I coaches.
“They get an opportunity to potentially get a college scholarship, and in addition to that, they have the opportunity to become a better basketball player,” Toppert said. “We’ve really got a large reach, and that’s the really exciting aspect of it as well. We’ve had over 100 college coaches come to our practices and recruit our guys. We’re doing some neat things that not a lot of others are.”
So far, Toppert has helped a few Albuquerque kids as well. Last year, Eldorado’s Zach Lee spent a year at ELEV8 before signing with Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference. This year, Toppert brought in Manzano product T.J. Holyfield and Valley High alumnus Adonis Saltes.
“Cody is my guy over there,” Saltes said. “He’s the best at what he does; he’s one of the best trainers in the world. Being able to work with him every day is great.
“I improved athletically a lot. I improved on a lot of little things. It was an advantage for me coming to ELEV8 rather than coming straight out of high school. Right now, a lot of schools that never saw me play in high school have seen me now and have been on me lately. It was a good choice.”
Saltes said he had a few D-I offers coming out of Valley, but he’s getting a lot more attention now. He recently took a visit to Columbia University and said Toppert “played a big role in having that as an option.”
Running the prep school is just one of Toppert’s duties. “We actively are getting the word out about our program but also college coaches have seen what we do and believe in what we do so they recommend their guys to come train with us,” Toppert said. “Agents see that too, and sometimes send us all their guys. And players will call other players and recommend us. That’s the best part, when a guy says, ‘hey man I loved that workout’ and calls a friend of theirs and the workouts keep growing.”
And while Toppert is having fun at ELEV8 right now, he has bigger goals.
“Coaching has always been what I wanted to do. I think ultimately I don’t know that I’ll be staying with ELEV8,” Toppert said. “I’ve got some aspirations at the NBA level based on the some of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to be around. I think that’s the direction I want to go in, but I’m not turning a blind eye to any other opportunities that are coming my way.
“Basketball has always been in my blood and it’s hard to get it out. … In fact, I don’t think it will ever be coming out of my blood. Basketball will be a part of my life until it’s over.”