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John Calipari: 'Grit is Between Jacob Toppin Being Special'

Coach Calipari is still searching for that next level on the court from the senior forward.

The evolution of Jacob Toppin has been a storyline ever since he transferred to Lexington from Rhode Island in 2020. 

Now in his third season, that cloud over Toppin's head hasn't gone anywhere. The days of averaging five points and two rebounds are in the past, but now the Brooklyn native has been tabbed with that "breakout" title. 

Having scored 10 or more points in five of Kentucky's first seven games, he's been a staple in the Wildcats' offense, but is yet to reach that upper echelon. 

The senior's performance against Bellarmine on Tuesday night was a tale of two halves. After going 0-4 from the floor in the first 20 minutes, Toppin responded in a big way to close out the 60-41 victory over the Knights, dropping 12 points, two rebounds and two assists in the back half. 

"We need probably more aggressive play from Jacob. Going to the rim in the first half he missed three two-footers. Threw them," head coach John Calipari said of Toppin following the win. "Second half, he drove and he made baskets. "You got to do that when they're being physical. We got to get some easy baskets that way."

Physicality has been something Calipari has preached all season. As Toppin attempts to pursue that next level of his game, the head coach touched on that part of his game, and what he needs to do to become "special."

"My whole thing is, I think his mid-level game and his ability and his athleticism to go to the basket. But it takes a grit to want to go in there and know you're gonna get pumped and pushed. That's where the only way you can get comfortable doing it is by doing it. He's got to just go in there And it's going to be some car crashes," Calipari said. "But he is so much a better player. But the grit is between him being special."

When told about his coach's comments post-game, Toppin agreed and embraced being kept in check. 

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"He's absolutely right, that's what's going to make me a special player, and I thank him for that because he's not letting me off the hook," he said. "He's always gonna be on my behind about it and I'm starting to get it. I'm starting to take the contact. I'm starting to play gritty. And once I get used to it, once I adapt to it, I'll be a lot better."

As someone who has talked about falling back on the work he's put in throughout the year, making that change as a more physical player may be tough, but is something that Toppin feels he can become over the course of his third season as a Wildcat.

"It's always tough to change, but i'm always willing to change, to be better in any aspect of life," he said. "So, it's not that tough to me but it's definitely somewhat tough."

The pursuit of becoming an elite basketball player continues for a core member of the Kentucky roster. 

A game recap of the Wildcats' 60-41 win can be found here.

For what head coach John Calipari had to say post-game, click here

Game notes on the win can be found here.

Want the latest on national football and basketball recruiting, including Cats targets? Head over to SI All-American for the latest news, blogs, and updates about the nation's best prospects.

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