JT Toppin has been named the Mountain West's Freshman of the Week four times this season and was recently ranked at #12 in Andy Katz’s top freshmen. However, he said basketball wasn’t always his sport of choice. He started playing football but after watching basketball with his grandparents, he decided to switch it up.
From Dallas, Texas, freshman forward for the Lobo basketball team, Toppin, has been making his mark at The Pit. With his ability to produce on both ends of the court, Toppin has a talent that is helping push the Lobos basketball ahead this season.
Toppin has continued to excel on the court and work to make a name for himself. With 17 points and 11 rebounds at No. 13 Colorado State on Tuesday, Jan. 2, Toppin is the second Lobo freshman to get a double-double against a ranked opponent.
Through the first 14 games of the season, he’s averaged 7.9 rebounds and has totaled 20 blocks, leading the team in both stats. He's also had 19 steals while averaging 12.7 points per game.
After Head Coach Richard Pitino brought the Lobos to a 22-12 overall last season, he said it was important to recruit talent like Toppin to keep the team’s momentum going and do better this year.
Pitino has high hopes for Toppin but knows that it is impossible to foresee what he will bring to the program as the weeks go on and the teams get more competitive.
“I can’t predict the future certainly, but he’s been pretty impressive after we’ve played 14 games,” Pitino said.
Two of the big reasons Toppin ultimately decided to join the University of New Mexico’s program were Pitino’s coaching style and how the Lobos play on the court.
“I like Coach Pitino. He coaches like my high school coach; he keeps you accountable,” Toppin said. “I like the play style. They get the bigs involved.”
Playing with Pitino also means getting to play in The Pit.
With a seating capacity of 15,411, The Pit is a loud environment that is constantly packed with eager and excited New Mexican fans. That type of energy can make a player nervous, but Toppin said he has gotten past the nerves and embraced the roar of the fans.
“The fans, they keep you going cause they’re so supportive,” Toppin said.
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As a freshman in college and as a student athlete, burnout is almost inevitable, so it’s important to work to avert it or minimize the effects of it when it hits. Pitino said he has been keeping this in mind as the season drives on.
“JT is certainly – production wise – phenomenal,” Pitino said. “He is still a freshman and it’s still extremely early in the season. Freshman tend to hit a wall so that’s one of the things we’ve got to be cognisant of certainly because he’s important to the team and we can’t have him hit that wall.”
Toppin said he knows it’s important to keep his drive up as conference games will begin to demand more from him and the team as a whole.
“I try to play the same every game, get rebounds, help my team and play with a high motor, and do everything to try to help the team win,” Toppin said. “Winning with my teammates – that’s the best part.”
Francesca Cicconetti is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fran_cicconetti.
Francesca Cicconetti is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached on Twitter @fran_cicconetti