Adding Fundamentals to Flash

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – J.P. Tokoto has built his reputation on freakish athleticism and highlight reel dunks. The next step in his evolution as a North Carolina basketball player is improving the technical side of his game, starting with his jump shot.

You may need both hands to add up the replay-eligible dunks that Tokoto threw down during his first season as a starter in 2013-14. Unfortunately, you only need eight fingers to total the number of 3-pointers the junior wing knocked down last year.

With opponents willing to give Tokoto space on the perimeter to keep him out of the lane – he shot 22.2 percent from long range (8-of-36) – the Menomonee Falls, Wisc. native set out to round out his game this offseason.

Tokoto (5.8 rebounds per game) averaged 9.3 points on 48.9 percent shooting last season, consistently delivering off the offensive glass and in transition. Outside of 15 feet, however, he was oftentimes a liability, including from the free throw line (50.0 percent).

As such, Tokoto has worked on his outside shooting with assistant coach Hubert Davis “pretty much every day.”

“On the days that we have practice, I’ll shoot 100 before practice and 100 after,” Tokoto told reporters on Tuesday. “Primarily just working out as a three right now and focusing on the 3-ball. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with [my] mid-range.”

While his mechanics haven’t changed, Tokoto indicated that he’s doing a better job keeping his elbow in on his jump shots.

“The best advice [Davis] gave me was definitely my elbow; the chicken wing,” Tokoto said. “Bringing it in closer to my body and holding it there has definitely affected my shot positively.”

Sticking with the poultry theme, Tokoto has also focused on his goose neck, otherwise known as snapping his wrist at the top of his shooting motion and holding his finish.

The results have been obvious thus far during summer practices, both for Tokoto and head coach Roy Williams.

“Just to hear Coach say, ‘good shot’ is kind of relieving,” Tokoto said.

His confidence has received an added boost as his improved shooting touch has opened penetration lanes on the perimeter.

“I think guys are starting to notice that I can actually hit the shot now, so they’re playing me a little closer, which makes it easier to go around them,” Tokoto said.

While the players don’t shoot free throws during pickup games, Tokoto has worked on that aspect of his game and said he feels comfortable from the charity stripe.

He’s also emphasized improving his ball-handling skills.

“Just keeping a tighter handle,” Tokoto said. “I have a tendency to get a rebound and just push it up the floor because I was so used to it in high school. So the ball-handling is more for that. I’ve never had trouble going around someone; it’s just one or two dribbles.”

Tokoto, who dropped 10 pounds over the course of his sophomore season but is now back up to 200 pounds, went home during the first session of summer school to work out with his personal trainer.

Strength and conditioning, however, has never been much of an issue for Tokoto. The most significant obstacle last season, according to Tokoto, was the mental side of game and learning to make the right play instead of the big play to cut down on costly turnovers.

Tokoto still expects opposing scouting reports to tag him as a player to give space on the perimeter and take away driving lanes. In fact, he hopes that the case so that he capitalize on the open looks.

 

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