Name recognition can get you far in the game of politics. It can curry both animosity and favor for a particular individual based off nothing more than a name. This week the concept proved its worth in the sports world as Kentucky fans almost universally nodded in approval as John Calipari accepted a transfer, Jacob Toppin, the younger brother of college basketball’s player of the year, Obi Toppin.
The first non-grad transfer Calipari has brought to UK since Ryan Harrow’s ill-fated 2013 basketball season, fans would probably be initially hesitant to welcome a small forward who averaged just 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in the Atlantic 10. What sets this small forward apart is his last name.
Few had heard of Obi Toppin before his breakout season at Dayton in 2020. A late bloomer, he was only 6-foot-2 as a high school junior. After redshirting in his first season as a college athlete, he stepped on the court as a 6-foot-9 forward. It took time for Obi Toppin to grow into his body and his game. The same could be said about his little brother, Jacob.
“I think I can be like Obi and my brother thinks that too,” Jacob told The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker. “We’ve had the same development process. We have the same body. His redshirt year really helped him a lot, helped him grow his body and become who he is today. I didn’t get that time to develop my body this year, so if I was to sit out, it would definitely help me a lot, let me focus on getting stronger and gaining weight and developing my skills. And eventually become what Obi is, or even better.”
There is a big difference between Jacob and Obi: Jacob is already 6-foot-7. He still has growing pains in his knees, leaving one to wonder how much room there is left to grow. Calipari is willing to bet that Jacob Toppin will fill into his body and follow a path similar to his brother’s.
This would not set new precedent in college basketball. Shortly after Steph Curry led the NCAA in scoring at Davidson in 2009, his younger brother Seth transferred from Liberty to Duke. In Seth’s final two seasons he averaged more than 13 points for the Blue Devils. If the Toppins can replicate what the Curry brothers did a decade ago, it would be considered an overwhelming success.
An accomplished name typically accompanies lofty expectations. Luckily for the younger brother, no one expects him to transform into college basketball’s player of the year at Kentucky. A no-lose situation for Calipari and Kenny Payne, if they can make the Rhode Island transfer a consistent contributor down the road, their gamble on the Toppin name will have paid off.