NEW YORK (AP) — Obi Toppin was lightly regarded when he was a high school player in New York.
He’s coming home as the college player of the year.
The Knicks selected Toppin with the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft Wednesday night, bringing the national player of the year back to his hometown.
He struggled to speak when asked during an ESPN interview why it would mean so much to wear a Knicks jersey.
“I’m from New York, that’s why it’s important,” Toppin said. “Me repping my city, it’s amazing.”
Toppin ended a remarkable ride from unheralded prospect to the top of college basketball by leading Dayton to a 29-2 record as a sophomore. He averaged 20 points and shot 63.3% from the field en route to being a unanimous All-America selection.
That would have seemed unimaginable a few years earlier, after he received no Division I scholarship offers after playing only one season of varsity basketball in Ossining, New York.
But Toppin, born in Brooklyn, shot up from 6-foot-2 as a high school junior to his current 6-9.
“I feel like nothing has came easy for me,” Toppin said. “I went through a lot of things growing up, and I feel like through those struggles and through those bad times that I’ve been through growing up, it’s made me the person and player that I am today.”
The Knicks made him their first pick under the new leadership of President Leon Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau.
“He’s an explosive athlete and one of the most dynamic players in college basketball, which earned him the Naismith Player of the Year honors,” Rose said. “Just as importantly, he’s also a high character individual with a tremendous work ethic. We look forward to a bright future with him and are excited to bring a native New Yorker home to the Garden.”
The Knicks added a second player at No. 25 in Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley, voted SEC player of the year by the league’s coaches. The pick was acquired in a deal with Minnesota but the trade hadn’t been announced by the time Quickley was drafted, though Wildcats coach John Calipari confirmed his destination in an interview with ESPN.
Calipari’s former top assistant, Kenny Payne, left during the offseason to join Thibodeau’s staff in New York. Rose and another Knicks executive, William Wesley, have good relationships with Calipari and the Kentucky program.
“Going anywhere, you know, you’re just happy to be there. But going somewhere like the Knicks, where I know coach Kenny Payne — I was with him every single day,” Quickley said. “Worked out with him every single day, watched film with him, things like that. So going somewhere I know and I’m familiar with the coaches, the GM, and things like that, I feel it’s definitely an advantage going to a team like that.”
Quickley led the Wildcats with 16.1 points per game.
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