By Ben Brown
If you type J.P. Tokoto's name into YouTube, you'll find a collection of videos that showcase some of the most explosive dunks of the Wisconsin native's career. If you arrive a little early for the next Carolina basketball game in the Smith Center, you'll see Tokoto's various dunk contest-style slams in person while the team goes through pregame warm-ups.
But for as spectacular as Tokoto's dunks can be, his work on the defensive end of the court for the Tar Heels might be a better demonstration of his unique athleticism. In Saturday's 82-71 win over Boston College, the 6-5 sophomore displayed all of his athletic attributes while holding in check BC guard Olivier Hanlan, who entered the game as the ACC's second leading scorer.
Tokoto was matched up against Hanlan for the majority of the game and held the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year to 16 points on just 3-of-9 shooting from the floor.
"Coach has said it before that he wants me to be the defensive guy we can go to late in the game when we need a stop or deny somebody the ball who is really hot on the court," Tokoto said. "Coach expects me to be the guy who he can call on and I'm trying to embrace it as we're going. It's coming along but I've got to get it into my mind that I am that guy."
While Tokoto was solid in keeping Hanlan from getting into a rhythm offensively, he also used his long arms and instincts to play passing lanes and disrupt the BC offense be getting deflections. Two of Tokoto's deflections in the first half led to easy buckets for the Tar Heels on a dunk from Brice Johnson and a layup from Nate Britt. That type of stifling defense is critical to start the fast break for the Tar Heels because of the way the team has struggled in its half court offense over the last three games.
"If you deflect a pass out of anybody's offense it's kind of going to screw up the play," Tokoto said. "There are spots that they've got to hit and we did a great job of taking them out of their sets and making them run different things and set the ball back up. We made it hard for them to operate on the court."
To go along with his energetic defense, Tokoto was also a factor offensively as he tallied 14 points by knocking down a couple of jumpers and by breaking down the BC defense off the dribble. He also set a career high with six assists in the game.
"I think defense is his best asset," said point guard Marcus Paige when asked about Tokoto. "Obviously when he's knocking down that mid-range jumper he's a great offensive player as well, but with his length and quickness and athleticism he can really be a shut down guy for us and I think he really bothered Hanlan for a lot of the game. His ability on defense is really going to show up if he keeps giving us the kind of effort he did today."
Tokoto will need to continue his strong defensive play for the Tar Heels if the team is going to improve its conference record to 2-3 on Monday night with a win at Virginia. Tokoto will have a big hand in defending senior guard Joe Harris, who is the Cavaliers' leading scorer.