UNC's Williams taking nothing for granted against State today

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 10:30 PM

Roy Williams said Friday that North Carolina sophomore J.P. Tokoto could be one of the best defenders he’s ever coached.

Tokoto will have a prime opportunity to showcase his ability when UNC faces N.C. State and Durham native T.J. Warren today at the Smith Center (1 p.m., ESPN2).

Warren leads the ACC in scoring at 22.5 points and is coming off his fourth 30-point game of the season in the Wolfpack’s win over Florida State Wednesday.

Tokoto has been tasked with stopping some of the league’s top scorers recently, with mixed results. The 6-5 forward fouled out with five minutes left against Virginia’s Joe Harris, who scored 16 points, but then held Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels to 4 of 12 shooting and six turnovers.

“He has the athleticism, he has tremendous length, he has jumping ability, he can block shots, he has the ability to move his feet,” Williams said. “He has every attribute you need to be a really good perimeter defender.”

Still, Tokoto hasn’t come close to realizing his potential yet. The Tar Heels coaching staff always selects a defensive player of the game after reviewing film, and Tokoto has only been picked once this season (against Miami) — the same amount as third-string point guard Luke Davis. Guard Marcus Paige has won the award six times.

“I think (Tokoto’s) getting better and better defensively,” Williams said. “He, as well as a lot of guys on our team, have got to stop fouling as much. But I think J.P., before he quits, could be one of the best defenders we’ve ever had.”

Tokoto and power forward James Michael McAdoo both picked up their fourth fouls with about 16 minutes left in Wednesday’s win at Georgia Tech.

Tokoto’s next challenge could be the most difficult. Not only is Warren is a prolific scorer, but he is also a 51.3 percent shooter and the ACC’s leading offensive rebounder at 3.2 a game.

“He’s about an efficient a player as there may be in the league,” Williams said. “He can drive it to the basket, he can pull up, he can shoot from 3, he gets fouled, he goes to the free throw line and makes his free throws, he can score in traffic. We recruited him very hard and there’s a reason.”

Williams said he anticipates putting Tokoto on Warren, though that could change if N.C. State decides to put the 6-8 sophomore at power forward. Either way, it will require a team effort to stop the Durham native, who played one season at Riverside High.

“We have to be willing to help off him,” Williams said. “We have to understand that he does a great job of, when he misses his shot, going right back to the board and getting the rebound and putting it right back in, so we have to get a body on him. Wall him if it’s inside, bother him if it’s outside.”

Last season, Warren had 19 points on 9 of 12 shooting in N.C. State’s win over UNC in Raleigh, and 10 points and 10 rebounds as the Tar Heels won the rematch in Chapel Hill. Warren was the only returning starter for the Wolfpack (14-7, 4-4) this season, which started 1-4 in the ACC but then won three straight at home — including a game against Maryland which Warren (ankle) sat out.

UNC (13-7, 3-4) also has come on strong after a slow start to league play, beating Clemson and Georgia Tech after being 1-4 in the ACC for the second time in school history.

Williams has won all 10 games against N.C. State in Chapel Hill and is 20-2 overall against the Wolfpack since coming to UNC, though he stressed that his previous success won’t affect today’s outcome.

“I birdied the last hole I played this fall,” Williams said. “It’s isn’t going to make one dadgum difference the first hole I play this spring.”