The Brooklyn-raised baller is now a Panther

Sit down with JoJo Toppin, The Norcross High School alum who is showcasing his talents back home in Atlanta. Photo by Anna Goricki | The Signal

He spent his days playing on New York’s iconic blacktops and has memories of those late-nights at Rucker and Diamonds Parks. He went to the University of Georgia for one year, playing sparingly. He transferred to Georgia State and is sitting out this year.

This is JoJo Toppin, and this is his story.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in the Bushwood neighborhood, he first fell in love with basketball at a young age and rooted for the Nets franchise.

But his sophomore year of high school would bring the first of a few changes in his life and his basketball career. He moved to Norcross, Georgia, for his sophomore year of high school and began to attend Norcross High School, where he was coached by Jesse McMillan. Toppin credits McMillan with really helping him to grow as a player and a person.

During training camp in the summer of 2016, Toppin met the then-head coach at the University of Tennessee. He was the first college coach to compliment the young man on his game and saw the potential Toppin had to offer.

We knew the skillset and the type of young man JoJo was and that he fit the mold of the type of student-athletes we were looking to recruit to Tennessee,” Lanier said.

That was was only the beginning of his journey to playing college basketball. Toppin, who stands at 6’5, has a great support group here at Georgia State. It is no coincidence that he is now back with coach Lanier, the one who gave him the recognition he deserved.

During his time at Norcross, Toppin was ranked as the No. 14 prospect in Georgia and No. 326 nationally by 247Sports. He led Norcross to a 54-10 record in his junior and senior seasons, which included appearances in the Class 7A state tournament championship game.

His junior season, he put up 10 points, seven rebounds and two steals per game, leading the Blue Devils to a 26-6 record. In his senior season, he averaged 10.8 points and five rebounds per game and led Norcross to a 28-4 record.

His impact on the court is not always shown in his numbers, but rather in his instincts. 

Toppin considers the strongest part of the game to be his IQ and his ability to slow the game down. Good players can put up stats, but great ones are able to do well on the court while making those around them better. 

Like all players, however, this high-flyer has his flaws. He feels most weak when the game gets sped up, sometimes unable to keep up with his teammates and matchup in transition.

Toppin spent freshman year away from home and in Athens, attending UGA and playing for head coach Tom Crean. It was the first year from both of them at the school. 

During the 2018-19 season, he appeared in 18 games, averaging 1.4 points and 0.7 rebounds per game in 5.5 minutes for a Georgia team that did not have an identity most of the season.

Despite the lack of playtime for himself, the true freshman was not frustrated by his lack of playing time as a Bulldog. With so many coaching changes going on in Athens, he saw it as a valuable learning experience. 

“That only allowed me to be happier for my teammates, and the minutes that I did get allowed me to cherish those moments and make an impact within those minutes,” Toppin said. “I look at minutes more valuable now, being that that was the first time I was in a situation like that.”

The most minutes played by him that season was 15 minutes against — what are the odds? — Georgia State in the third-place game of the Cayman Islands Classic.

Little did he know that he would be joining that Panthers team on the other bench.

Toppins transferred to Georgia State for his sophomore year. The reason that he transferred to GSU was because of his prior relationship with Coach Lanier.

Despite being frustrated at having to sit out a year, he considers it a benefit to be able to learn and watch from the other players.

He handles himself in an incredibly mature manner, and I look forward to having him around for many years to come,” Lanier said.

While he possesses that uber athleticism, he is also doing so much more to improve his game and be the best player possible in the Fall. Between the drills and daily practices, he knows that he will get better with time. He is also doing a lot of drills and preps and watching team film from the games they played this season.

“Learning and watching, it’s kind of like having the cheat code [to a video game] or the cheat sheet to the test,” Toppin said. “I look at next year as the test; I’m basically being given all the answers to the test in practice.”

With so much basketball going on in his life, Toppin is up to a lot in his year off the court.

After being undecided on a major, he chose theater this semester. Whether he will take it with him after school is uncertain, but he will work at it. 

Hard work is who he is.

Basketball is a lifestyle, but it is not what defines JoJo Toppin. Next Fall will bring in new players–freshman, transfers and more redshirt players. For Toppin, his time is coming, and he will soon showcase his talents and truly electrify the GSU Sports.