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Movin’ on up: Toppert taking it day-by-day in new role with NAZ Suns
Cornell graduate has Arizona ties, pledges fast-paced offense

New Northern Arizona head coach Cody Toppert instructs his players on the court during the Suns’ season opener against the Agua Caliente Clippers on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Prescott Valley. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

New Northern Arizona head coach Cody Toppert instructs his players on the court during the Suns’ season opener against the Agua Caliente Clippers on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Prescott Valley. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

A week ago, Cody Toppert was reviewing practice plans and playbooks as an assistant coach under Matt Brase for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, last season’s runner up to Raptors 905 for the NBA Gatorade League championship.

Today, he’s scrambling to just make time for a phone call between his two daughters and wife, Brittany, who continues to feverishly pack their house back in Texas while her husband runs the show in Prescott Valley for the Northern Arizona Suns.

A lot can change in a week, especially in the G League.

Named the second head coach in Northern Arizona history Nov. 2, Toppert brings with him an Ivy League education and a knowledge for the game of basketball many clubs covet.

Remember the phrase “7-seconds or less,” the infamous offensive system former Phoenix Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni completely changed the NBA landscape forever with? Suns fans may see a rebirth of the legendary offense in Prescott Valley.

D’Antoni is still applying his craft as the head coach of the Houston Rockets, which happens to be the parent club for the Vipers, giving Toppert full access to one of the greatest offensive minds the sport has ever seen.

He just needed a chance. And now, he’s got one with the Suns.

“One day I was at practice and our GM pulled me aside and said the Suns had reached out and wanted to interview me,” Toppert said. “He asked if I’d be interested and I said, ‘absolutely.’”

Toppert interviewed for the position, and based on the outcome, was the right man for the job.

“It came out of the blue, I’m excited to be here,” Toppert said. “So far things have been amazing.”

Brase told last week that he was “happy” for his former assistant coach.

“He did a great job these last two years. … He’ll be missed here,” Brase said.

Northern Arizona general manager Louis Lehman said in a statement released to the media Nov. 4 that Toppert “embodies everything the Suns organization looks for in a coach and a person.”

“His knowledge of the game, character, work ethic, and past experiences as a player and coach have prepared him for this opportunity,” Lehman said in the statement.

Toppert played four seasons (2001-05) at Cornell where he scored 1,232 points, good enough for eighth all-time in school history. He is the program’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (237) and games played (108).

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native was the first-ever player allocated to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, which won the G League title in 2005-06.

He played several seasons overseas including clubs in Spain, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Portugal, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, before retiring and getting into coaching.

Toppert also has ties to the state of Arizona.

His wife, formally Brittany Cooper, was a former McDonald’s All-American who starred at Arizona State from 2002-06, becoming one best players in Sun Devil history.

Toppert spent time as an assistant coach with Scottsdale Christian Academy during the 2008-09 season before eventually making his way to Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“Luckily, I’ve been a basketball vagabond, travel the world, so to speak, with my entire family for a long time at this point,” Toppert said when asked how his family is handling the transition to Prescott Valley.

Being a head coach at the G League level and beyond is a “dream” of his, Toppert said.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I had to jump at it and my family has been 100 percent behind it as well. And the Northern Arizona community here has been amazing,” Toppert said.

using his time wisely

Including tonight’s home contest with the Iowa Wolves, Toppert has spent a total of eight days in Prescott Valley. That isn’t much time to put in an entirely new system, especially after former head coach Tyrone Ellis laid the foundation for what was former Phoenix head coach Earl Watson’s vision.

“That system was Earl Watson’s system, and it’s been essentially scrapped,” Toppert said about the former Phoenix coach, who was fired two weeks ago. “So, where we’re at is I’ve spoken with Jay [Triano], I plan on going down to Phoenix and spending as much time as I can to see how they are doing things.”

For now, Toppert will continue to get to know his roster, while implementing his fast-paced offensive system and work to get better defensively.

“What it’s going to come down to is us staying on the same page and really getting that extra effort on the floor because when all else fails, scheme is one thing, but effort is what’s going to help you persevere on that end of the floor,” Toppert said, adding he’s discovered many of his players are not only mature and professional, but perfectionists.

“We’ll have to work through things, because when you commit to playing fast, you make mistakes, but we’ll get there inch by inch.”

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is sports editor for The Daily Courier, the Prescott Valley Tribune and the Chino Valley Review. Follow him on Twitter at @SportsWriter52 or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Email or call (928) 445-3333, ext. 1106.

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