Redemption, Progress Drive Tokoto

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — J.P. Tokoto hears the criticisms. He absorbs the doubts. He also understands the scrutiny he'll face throughout the spring and summer and even agrees with some of his detractors.

After a series of disappointing performances last summer on the travel circuit, culminating in a highly publicized struggle at the NBA Players Association Camp, Tokoto has accepted the challenge to prove he truly does belong among the nation's elite players.

"That experience last summer has really motivated me a lot," Tokoto said with a smile. "I just realize now that I need to be more aggressive, and especially at a camp like that where everyone is out to get theirs."

Rather than merely write off his play last summer as a casualty of being surrounded by selfish players, Tokoto ascribes his difficulties primarily to his own lack of assertiveness.

"I can tell you that I'm going back (to the NBPA Camp) again this year and will be looking to do different things," Tokoto said. "I just have to be more aggressive."

Tokoto proved at the Real Deal in the Rock this weekend that he's off to a fresh start. Though his jump shot remains inconsistent, he has become much more involved in the Wisconsin Playground Warriors' offense. Last year, he would allow several consecutive possessions to pass by without getting a touch; this year, he's looking for driving opportunities and setting up teammates for open shots when defenses converge on him.

Getting advice from Roy Williams has helped guide the process.

"Coach has said I need to get stronger and just put weight on, plus keep working on my shot and my handle," Tokoto said. "I'm really working on my overall game."

Tokoto is one piece of North Carolina's recruiting strategy for the class of 2012. He's highly aware of UNC's pursuit of another highly touted wing, Shabazz Muhammad.

"I've actually never met Shabazz, but we're supposed to hook up at Adidas Nations," he said. "Our dads have talked and I've also spoken to his father, and he's a very nice man."

Some players might become vexed at the idea of sharing a spot in the class with another blue-chip prospect at the same general position, but Tokoto hopes Muhammad will join him in Chapel Hill.

"It would be great to have two elite wings coming in together," he said. "It would be like taking some of the pressure off, and we'd both be able to just step up and do our jobs."

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