- C.L. Brown, ESPN Staff Writer
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Did we just witness the reinvention of J.P. Tokoto?
The first half of his performance against Oakland would suggest so. Tokoto netted his career high in scoring with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first 20 minutes against the Grizzlies.
His first two baskets came in transition, which has always been his strength. But his final three gave glimpses of how much he’s developed from last season:
Tokoto’s crossover left Oakland’s Duke Mondy, who led the nation in steals last season, stumbling on the floor. He then pulled up and made a 15-footer.
Out in transition, instead of trying to force his way into the lane, Tokoto pulled up and made an 18-footer in rhythm.
After making just 1 of 11 3-point attempts last season, Tokoto matched that when he floated to an open spot in the Grizzlies’ zone and took a pass from Isaiah Hicks from the high post to make a 3 from the right wing.
“His shot is better,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We wanted him to understand it’s a work in progress; he’s going to get better and better and better.”
It’s not just his shot.
Tokoto had 26 assists all of last season. He dished a career-high five assists against Oakland, including four in the first half. In an interview before the season, that was one area Tokoto said he’d improve.
“A lot of people get caught up in the highlight videos and the mix tapes. It overshadows my actual basketball abilities,” Tokoto said. “For one, I think people don’t really admire the way I see the court. Definitely in high school, I think that was left out a lot.”
After showing what he hadn’t shown, Williams will like to see more of what Tokoto has proven he can do, and that’s rebound.
Tokoto had just one rebound against Oakland in the first half and finished with three, two of which were on the offensive glass. Williams said on his radio show Monday night that Tokoto had the potential to be the best offensive rebounder he’d ever coached.
“He could be one of those guys because his athleticism is unbelievable. He gets to the boards,” Williams said.
Tokoto wasn’t as sharp in the second half of the game, as indicated by his four turnovers in the second half. Maybe it was a function of the lopsided score or maybe it was proof that he has more work to do. Based on his sophomore debut, he’s at least shown the potential to be a factor.
“He has an ability to do some things that jump out at you,” Williams said on his radio show. “If he can focus on the little things and be fundamentally sound with the basketball, he's going to be a really good player.”
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