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Ballhandling is among Tokoto's areas of offseason emphasis, as he wants to improve on his turnover numbers (31 in 302 minutes last year).
Ballhandling is among Tokoto's areas of offseason emphasis, as he wants to improve on his turnover numbers (31 in 302 minutes last...
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Lucas: Busy Summer For Tokoto
Release: 06/12/2013

By Adam Lucas

As Bus W pulls up to Granville Towers bearing the first load of Tuesday evening's campers from Roy Williams Basketball Camp, it's easy to tell it's been a busy day.

When the doors swing open, some campers look exhausted. Others look jubilant--perhaps the product of a mid-day sugar rush trip to Ken's Quickie Mart. A few look a little homesick.

But the first person off the bus looks absolutely thrilled. That's J.P. Tokoto, and he's just spent approximately two hours refereeing camp basketball games involving third graders and fourth graders. It doesn't sound like an especially glamorous assignment, but Tokoto seems to revel in it, even adding a little extra flair to a charge call at one point.

Officially, the camp day is over. As a counselor, Tokoto's day is finished. He has the evening to do whatever he wants--and, apparently, what he wants is to hang out with the campers some more, joking with them and just generally hanging out while they marvel that a real life Carolina basketball player is one of their newest friends.

It's just the latest part of a busy offseason for the rising sophomore. On Monday afternoon, he'd met with the media while still wiping away sweat from an intense shooting workout with assistant coach Hubert Davis. As a freshman, Tokoto felt he drifted too much towards standstill jump shooting, and shot 48.8% from the field but just 9.1% from the three-point line and 38.5% from the free throw line. This summer, he's focusing on his off-the-dribble and midrange game, an area he says was a strength of his in high school.

He's also made a technical adjustment to his shot.

"During the season, (Coach Davis) would see my elbow come out, like a chicken wing, almost," Tokoto says. "Now I'm trying to lock it into position and I'm seeing tremendous results."

This particular diagnosis should sound familiar. Raymond Felton shot 35.8% from the three-point line as a freshman, but improved to 44 percent as a junior after undergoing a similar shooting makeover. That's not to say Tokoto will instantly turn into a perimeter sharpshooter, but there's room for improvement if he adapts to the changes in his form.

Some of the other changes aren't quite as technical. Specifically, Tokoto hopes to play a larger role than the 8.6 minutes per game he saw as a freshman. When asked to evaluate his freshman campaign, he speaks for a full two minutes--that's a lengthy answer for any college freshman, but especially in a press conference-type environment--and identifies one key area he needs to improve.

"I kind of doubted myself...during the season, it was the mental part that held me back, not so much the physical," he says.

Some of those doubts were created by fluctuating playing time. Tokoto, who Roy Williams said has the potential to be the best offensive rebounder he's ever coached, saw his minutes surge at midseason, playing three straight double-digit minute games in a stretch that included matchups against Georgia Tech, NC State and Boston College. But he had just one double-digit minute game in the final 15 contests of the season, caught in a playing time logjam on the wing.

After spending much of last season at 193 pounds, Tokoto weighs 201 now and hopes he's on the way to 210. That should help him endure the pounding of a full ACC season, one that he hopes will include longer, more consistent minutes. He acknowledges he'll need to change his mindset to be a solid rotation contributor.

"Last year, I was thinking, 'I may not be in here long, so let me try to get one highlight play at least,'" he says with a grin.

Of course, those highlight plays--he memorably jumped over Joel James for an open practice dunk in Kansas City during the NCAA Tournament--are a big part of what endear him to those dozens of campers outside Granville Towers. They won't be his only younger fans this summer, however.

Just as he did last summer, when he returns to Wisconsin in July, Tokoto plans to help coach his younger brother's basketball team, the Wisconsin Shooters. Last year, he enlisted James to help him; pity the opposing coach of an 11-year-old basketball team who saw his confidence instantly melt away when confronted with Tokoto and James on the opposing sideline.

Until then, though, Tokoto still has plenty of business in Chapel Hill. He'll play in the current-vs-former player camp games in both sessions of Roy Williams Basketball Camp, have regular workouts with Davis and with strength coach Jonas Sahratian, and attend summer classes.

Right now, though? He's busy officiating a basketball game between fourth graders. "Come on, J.P., that was a foul!" one kid tells him.

Tokoto narrows his eyes. He has clearly been on the receiving end of this look from a few officials. "Come on, man," he says, and there's that smile again. "That wasn't a foul. You go play."

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly.


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