Tokoto Correcting Weaknesses

Inside Carolina
Posted Jun 10, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Roy Williams highlighted two negatives in J.P. Tokoto’s freshman play – shooting and turnovers - last season. The sophomore wing has keyed on those areas during his summer workouts.

Tokoto, hailing from Menomonee Falls, Wisc., averaged 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game in 2012-13. His athleticism was off the charts, drawing comparisons to former Tar Heel Vince Carter after 360-degree between-the-legs dunks and a leap over 6-foot-10 teammate Joel James during open practices.

That athletic ability helped him earn playing time on a crowded wing due to his defensive efforts and work on the boards. However, his often-errant shot attempts outside of the paint, as well as his 31 turnovers (most by a reserve by a good margin), limited his time on the court.

There were also the mental challenges that come along with a rookie season. Tokoto wasn’t accustomed to a head coach getting after him the way Williams did, and it took him a while to understand his head coach’s loyalty to his upperclassmen.

Those issues are resolved through maturity and communication. Shooting ability and ball-handling require a more hands-on approach.

Tokoto arrives at his typical offseason workout 15-20 minutes early and sets up a ball machine to fire passes at him first at mid-range spots and then farther back to the 3-point line. Assistant coach Hubert Davis then enters the equation, working primarily on off-the-dribble shooting.

“During the season it was all spot-up shooting,” Tokoto told reporters on Monday. “But I went to him and told him that a strong part of my game is off the dribble, mid-range. That’s what I did a lot in high school and that’s where I’m most comfortable.”

Tokoto said he typically takes 100 shots off the dribble around the horn; sometimes working on double moves coming into a screen, sometimes executing off a pick-and-roll. After the workout, he shoots free throws before focusing on his ball handling for 5-10 minutes.

Davis is not the only former Tar Heel helping Tokoto with his shot, though. Shammond Williams has also played a role in improving the sophomore’s effectiveness off the dribble.

“During the season he would see my elbow kind of come out, off to the side like a chicken wing almost,” Tokoto said. “So now I’m locking it in position and I’ve seen tremendous results from just that. And that was just him telling me, not even really working out.”

As far as turnovers go, Tokoto chalks up last season’s mistakes to butterflies, overthinking the situation and second-guessing his decisions.

“Looking back at the season, there are a lot of plays that I wish I could take back and just make different decisions,” Tokoto said. “Part of it is taking those plays, watching the film, moving forward with it and realizing some of those plays aren’t needed.”

The 6-foot-5 forward expects to be more effective defensively and on the glass by packing on muscle this season. Tokoto arrived in Chapel Hill last June weighing 186 – a “generous” number, according to him – and got up to 205 by the season opener.

Those pounds quickly melted away, however, once the wear and tear of the season bore down on him and he played most of the year at 193. Tokoto weighed in at 201 pounds on Monday and has a bet with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian – reach 210 pounds by the end of second session summer school or owe him 75 pushups.

“I’m getting stronger in the weight room so I’m not going to get pushed around as much,” Tokoto said. “I’ve been working on my game a lot so guys will have a hard time guarding me instead of me having to guard them.”

Tokoto understands his strengths and has emphasized improving his weaknesses this offseason.

“I’m really looking forward to next season,” he said.


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