Last season, Oscar Tshiebwe dominated college basketball and became the first unanimous National Player of the Year in Kentucky basketball history.
With his return, Tshiebwe has set his goals even higher and will look to improve on his historic 2022 season by bringing home a ninth national championship to Kentucky. To accomplish this, Tshiebwe will certainly need the help of his teammates, one of which is returnee Jacob Toppin.
For the majority of last season, Toppin split minutes with Keion Brooks Jr. But with Brooks transferring to the Washington Huskies, Toppin will take on a larger role and assist Tshiebwe in the frontcourt.
Early into summer workouts, it looks like Toppin is certainly primed to seize the opportunity with Tshiebwe giving his teammate very high praise.
“He’s right now like our best player. He’s unstoppable in the gym. Nobody can stop him,” Tshiebwe said at a recent press conference.
Known as a freak athlete and a versatile defender, Toppin has been a valuable piece off the bench in his two seasons in Lexington. Last season, Toppin averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 points on an efficient 56.9 percent from the field.
While these statistics won’t necessarily blow someone away, Toppin had the team's fourth-best player efficiency rating (19.2) and the second-best offensive rating (127.3) (RealGM). Not to mention, Toppin often provided value for things that can’t be kept statistically on the court, such as hustle.
In order to prepare for the NBA and his enlarged role at Kentucky, Toppin needs to become more physical and expand his offensive skill set, which is exactly what Tshiebwe said he is doing.
“He’ll do everything he wants. Even if you put a hand up, he’ll still make it. … He’s become more physical and he’s making shots. I love what I’m seeing from him,” Tshiebwe said.
While Toppin did explore the NBA Draft waters, he knew he wasn’t ready, even admitting so in a recent media interview, “The plan for me was definitely to come back because I knew I wasn’t ready.”
With that said, Toppin did express gratitude for the opportunity to test the waters and will look to use his feedback from the NBA to better himself this season. “I’m a person who’s going to go at my own pace. I’m not going to force anything, and I believe that feedback, that opportunity helped me a lot for this upcoming season,” Toppin said.
Of course, a lot of positive news comes out in the summer, but it is certainly better than the contrary. Just three and a half months until Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats hit the court in their season opener.