Tokoto the answer as UNC searches for its best
J.P. Tokoto played all five positions in high school, and coach Roy Williams told the 6-foot-5, 185-pound forward to expect the same treatment when he came to North Carolina.
Still, Tokoto didn’t expect to be playing power forward or center for the Tar Heels — until the freshman wound up playing those positions briefly in Saturday’s 93-87 win over East Carolina.
Williams was so upset with his post players for not getting a single offensive rebound that he went with a frontcourt of Tokoto and swingmen Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston with 12:52 remaining and No. 21 UNC up by nine.
The results over the next two minutes were mixed — the Tar Heels outscored the Pirates 4-3 — but in his role as UNC’s shortest center, Tokoto did get an offensive rebound.
“That was a shock to me as well,” Tokoto said. “(But) Coach had stressed to me that I was going to be playing a lot of spots.”
Bullock (four), Hairston (three) and Tokoto (two) combined for nine offensive rebounds in the game. Still, the Tar Heels (8-2) allowed 61 second-half points to the Pirates (6-2), causing Williams to say he was more frustrated than he had been in a long time.
On the one hand, Williams’ decision to play Tokoto instead of one of his three centers showed how dissatisfied he was with Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson, who combined for seven points and five rebounds in 31 minutes. On the other hand, it also showed Williams’ confidence in Tokoto, who had season highs of 10 points (on 5-of-5 shooting) and five rebounds in 10 minutes.
“I’m definitely more comfortable out there now,” Tokoto said. “It was just that first up and down, then you get your juices flowing and you feel like you can get up and down pretty easily now. It’s just getting that experience under my belt.”
Williams even used Tokoto for all but 27 seconds in the final 2:19, as ECU got within four and threatened to pull a massive upset in its first-ever game in Chapel Hill. Tokoto assisted on Leslie McDonald’s basket with nine seconds left that closed the scoring.
But before Tokoto was used as a center or asked to help UNC hang on for the win, he almost was pulled out of the game after one possession.
The Wisconsin native had only been in the game for 30 seconds when his outlet pass was stolen by Miguel Paul, leading to a 3-on-1 for ECU. Paul fed Maurice Kemp for a dunk, but Tokoto met Kemp at the rim and not only blocked the attempt, but also got the ensuring rebound and drew a foul, leading to a TV timeout.
“I knew if that pass got intercepted and I had let them score, I would have been pulled out of the game for two bad plays in a row,” Tokoto said. “So I made it my obligation to make it a good play and make Coach happy.
“He stressed in the timeout that I had to make better passes, everyone had to come back to the ball, but at the same time I made a good play.”
Sure enough, Tokoto stayed in the game after the timeout, and made two floaters and a nice entry pass to James Michael McAdoo during UNC’s next three trips down the floor.
Tokoto’s output was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing win for the Tar Heels, who have just three games left before conference play begins.
“It was a little frustrating out there to say the least,” Williams said. “But it’s another game; it’s another opportunity to get better.”