JoJo Toppin signed with Georgia in November for a myriad of reasons.
Location meant something to him. So did the strong recruiting relationship the 3-star small forward had forged with assistant coach Jonas Hayes. Rayshaun Hammonds, his former Norcross High (Ga.) teammate, was flashing the promise which led to a freshman season which saw him average 24.2 minutes and 6.7 points per game.
Those were all big. But the biggest draw to UGA was former coach Mark Fox. That’s what made it all the more interesting to hear what he had to say after Tom Crean was hired on Thursday night.
“Anybody would be curious about all of this,” Toppin said. “But just to me personally just because the circumstances change I won’t change my opinion on the organization that is Georgia basketball and everything. I gave them my word. I am still going to give them my word and my best. Now that we’ve got Tom Crean the whole thing now for me will be just feeling him out and fitting into his program.”
Toppin, the nation’s No. 59 small forward on the 247Sports Composite had already read up on Crean.
“I know he’s a great coach,” Toppin said. “He’s been to the NCAA Tournament. I know he’s won a lot of game and he’s a great coach. But the whole thing will be getting used to what he wants. I know my role changes with him and this new staff.”
But that was just the surface layer on what he already knows about his next coach.
“Well, first I looked at his history,” Toppin said. “I looked at him going to four Sweet 16s and being in nine NCAA Tournaments. That was my first impression of it. The guy can win.”
He was looking to get in touch with Crean on Friday. What will be the first thing he will want to know?
“Just his play style,” Toppin said. “I want to know where he wants me to fit into his system. I think that’s the most important thing with any coach when you bring a new coach in and the other new coaches that he brings in. The way the staff now views you is definitely going to change.”
The initial appeal for JoJo Toppin to UGA basketball
The 6-foot-7, 180-pound senior signed to play a flex big guard and shooting guard option for the Bulldogs. He considers himself a high-energy guy and a leader for his teammates on the floor.
That’s what the previous staff noticed, too.
“The Bulldogs showed me a lot of love during the summer,” he said. “Especially Jonas. I’ve known him for such a long time. He’s such a cool guy and it kind of made it easier when my teammate who was ahead of me one year in high school also went to Georgia. It all kind of opened up things for Georgia.”
He did say he fell in love with the staff more than just the ability to play in Athens. Fox was the one head coach that showed him the most love during the recruiting process.
“You always want to go to the school which shows you the most love and then you want to show that same love back,” Toppin said.
Hayes will be a big piece of the puzzle for his immediate happiness as a member of Crean’s program. He said he “will be praying on” the hope that Hayes will still be on the UGA bench next season.
“That is really important to me actually so I won’t lie about that,” he said. “He’s a great guy. I’ve known him. He’s the one that recruited me until (coach) Fox starting calling me. His personality is just great.”
Toppin’s second choice was to play for Tennessee. He doesn’t know what his choice would have been with Hammonds and the plus regarding location for Georgia if Hayes was on the staff at that SEC rival.
His first name is actually Joseph, but that evolved as his coaches started to call him that.
“I don’t know where that came from when they started telling me that but I kind of like it now,” Toppin said.
He feels that his athleticism would be the biggest plus for him heading to the college level. The biggest adjustment might be factoring in the extra distance on the college 3-point line compared to what he knows from the high school game.
Toppin averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals per game during his junior season. Fox felt that he was a quick slasher who was very athletic at the rim when he spoke about what his signing meant to the program back in November.
Does the hire lure 5-star Ashton Hagans back to UGA?
Everyone that follows Georgia basketball recruiting knows that the biggest storylines going forward will be what happens with Hayes. It will also lead to the topic of whether Ashton Hagans might re-commit back to Georgia.
Hagans chose UGA before Fox’s tenure was in peril. He’s also now reclassifying from the 2019 class to this year’s cycle. When he backed off that pledge, it opened the door for more of college basketball’s elite to make a run at him.
The 6-foot-4 point guard still rates on the 247Sports Composite as the nation’s No. 8 overall prospect for 2019. That will change as he reclassifies. Hagans de-committed from UGA on Feb. 26.
He’s seen new offers come in from Arizona State, Georgetown, Maryland and Marquette come his way since he backed off that pledge.
Toppin chose his words carefully when it came to that one. Will he try to talk up the program to get Hagans to reconsider that commitment?
“That’s my guy first and foremost so probably,” Toppin said. “I couldn’t tell you where (he will go) but I will respect the man’s decision. I know he has a lot going on with those other schools but I will definitely put the word in for what we’ve got going here. Definitely.”
If Hayes returns, Toppin said that there was a definite possibility of Hagans taking another very good look at Georgia.