‘This team can get us No. 9.’ UK’s Toppin working on shooting, strength in pursuit of title.

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The feedback Jacob Toppin said he received during the pre-draft process this year involved the need to add weight, get stronger and become a more consistent shooter.

In speaking to reporters Thursday, Toppin emphasized improved shooting as key.

“That’s the main thing that’s going to take me to the next level,” he said.

Toppin said he is working “multiple times a day” on his jump shot. That would include catch-and-shoot action, he said, and shooting off the dribble or the elemental pull-up jumper.

“If I can get to my spot and just pull up, I can shoot over anyone,” he said. “No one can get to the height that I can get to.”

Toppin’s vertical leap of 42.5 inches was the highest of any player on last season’s team, UK said.

Toppin made four of 10 three-point shots last season. That was the fewest attempts and the best shooting accuracy of his college career.

“This whole offseason, I’ve been working on my jump shot,” he said. “I think I made great strides, but we’ve got to see what I can do in games. I believe I’ll be able to space the floor and make those threes.”

As for gaining weight and getting stronger, Toppin said he had gained 5 to 10 pounds so far this offseason. His strategy is to eat protein and carbs. “Not a lot of junk food,” he said.

That could be a challenge. “I’m a candy person,” he said. “I love candy. Starbursts are my favorite.”

UK listed Toppin last season as 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds.

Putting his name into this year’s NBA Draft led to workouts in Los Angeles with his older brother, Obi, and such NBA-bound players as Jaden Ivey and AJ Griffin, the fifth and 16th picks respectively in this year’s draft.

Six-time NBA All-Star Paul George also came to the workouts.

“We didn’t actually play with him,” Toppin said, “but he gave me some good feedback.”

Toppin said the pre-draft workouts included one-on-one games against his older brother. The action got heated.

“We almost got into a fight because we’re so competitive,” he said. “He doesn’t have the upper hand anymore. I’ve got the upper hand now. I’m just a lot faster than him. He can’t move his feet well.”

When asked what led to a contentious moment playing against his brother, Toppin said, “he’s the older brother, so he thinks every call has to go his way. I wasn’t going for it.”

Of course, Obi Toppin set a high standard for his brother to match or exceed. The older Toppin was the national player of the year for the 2019-20 season and now plays for the New York Knicks.

The younger Toppin dismissed the notion of being intimidated by his brother’s achievements.

“Everyone has their own path,” he said. “Obviously, people are going to compare the two. At the end of the day, I’m going to worry about what I’ve got to do to improve myself and my game.”

Jacob Toppin averaged 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 17.7 minutes per game last season.
Jacob Toppin averaged 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 17.7 minutes per game last season.

Toppin did not speak of his role next season being wildly different than in the past. Then and now, he wants to be a disruptive defender, rebound and “be a hustle player.” He intends to add more consistent shooting.

The idea of staying in this year’s NBA Draft was not an option.

“I knew I wasn’t ready (for the NBA),” he said. “I’m a person that’s going to go at my own pace. I’m not going to force anything.”

Toppin, who turned 22 in May, averaged 6.2 points and 17.7 minutes per game last season.

When he announced he would be playing for Kentucky again next season, Toppin said in a social media post that he had “big goals in mind.”

In case there was any confusion about what that meant, he added, “It’s time for NINE!”

That was a reference to Kentucky winning the NCAA Tournament for a ninth time.

“I believe, I truly believe, that this team can get us No. 9 if we dial in, lock in and keep the confidence we have right now,” he said. “If we stay together.”

The August trip to the Bahamas to play four exhibition games can significantly help make that happen,” Toppin said. “We’re starting earlier, so we’re going to be able to mesh well.

“We’re going to be able to build that connectivity that we need, that chemistry we need for the season.”

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