NBPA: J.P. Tokoto Q&A

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. --- You asked, and J.P. Tokoto answered. InsideCarolina.com readers submitted questions for the future Tar Heel and he took a break from the NBPA Top 100 Camp to respond.

Are there any players in the 2012 class that you're trying to get to come to Carolina?

"Well, besides Marcus Paige, who we already got, I know Coach is talking about bringing in two bigger players. So he let me know those names. Joel James, who's here. I talked to him a little bit. Kaleb Tarczewski, he took a visit about five days ago. Marcus actually talked to him and he said he liked it a lot. ... Whoever we can get, I'll welcome them to the Carolina family. We're going to go down to Carolina and do some work. Carry on the legacy."

Is there anyone you think would be particularly fun to play with?

"I've seen Joel James play and I'd really like to play with him because not only does he take up space but he can score the rock. He's big. He can play defense and gets rebounds. It'd be fun to play with him. I haven't seen Kaleb play yet so I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

What do you view as your strengths right now?

"Definitely my jumping ability, going and getting a ball that's in the air. Rebounding and getting out on the break in the open court. I feel like I'm a pretty good finisher. My jump shot has gotten way better. I can say that. My handles have gotten a lot better. I bring up the ball now. All that stuff. And my defense has definitely gotten better. I've been working on that a lot, too. … I'm getting better, gaining weight. I'm up to 193 now. I'm feeling a little bit stronger. I'm going inside and taking it to the bigger guys."

Do you notice the added strength when you play?

"Yeah, taking guys to the hole, getting past them. I feel a lot quicker, too. My first step has gotten a lot quicker. Taking guys off the dribble and stuff. Going to the hoop, finishing strong through contact. Moving my feet on defense. Guys aren't able to get past me as easy as they were. It definitely does feel good and it motivates you to work even harder and get better. Raise that bar."

What are your weaknesses right now? "There's always room for improvement. Everything I've been working on I can still work on and get better at. And a few other areas in my game (that need improvement are) extending my range out to the three-point line. I've always talked on defense but I could always talk a little bit more. And just on the defensive side, do everything better."

How much attention do you pay to rankings and other Internet coverage?

"I can actually say my mom is the one who takes it to heart more than I do because she sees her baby dropping in the rankings or somebody saying some negative stuff about me. So she's the one who takes it to heart. My dad and I we really just laugh it off. We look up what they say about my game and stuff. We take it and we go work on it. … It's all fine and dandy but when it comes down to it, it's what you can do on the court, what you bring and how you bring it. Rankings don't mean anything once you get on the court."

Do you try to block it out?

"I don't totally ignore them. I like to see that stuff. It's motivation. Most guys would look at it and say ‘Ah jeez, they say I'm a bad player' … and they take it to heart and get discouraged. I don't believe I'm that guy. I believe I look at that stuff and I do kind of laugh at it. I smile. My mom is sitting there ticked off and I'm smiling. It's really funny."

Who's the toughest player you've gone against in AAU?

"In any year, I'd have to say Kyrie Irving my freshman year. We played them down in the TOC in our very first game. … I'm not proud of this but I was bringing the ball up and he just kind of took it from me at half court. … That had never really happened before. ..."

Who's the toughest wing you've gone against?

"I did play against Marcus Smart in Kansas. We actually lost to them in the Elite Eight. He has a great game. He's strong. He can take it inside and out. He can shoot from outside. He's pretty good at defense. I like Marcus a lot. He's a pretty cool guy off the court, too. We met up here again. This is our second time just chilling and stuff."

Have you guys talked at all about him coming to Carolina?

"You know (what), we haven't talked about it at all."

Is there a past or present UNC player you would compare yourself to?

"I don't think so. I've gotten compared to Scottie Pippen a lot. When I first started talking to Coach K he told me he didn't see me as a positional player. He sees me as a basketball player who can do everything on the court and that's what Scottie Pippen was. I actually like that because I've actually watched Scottie Pippen's game and I kind of do see similarities in our games. We take it to the hole a lot. We bring the ball up. We step out and shoot. We play defense, rebound."

Like Pippen, your game doesn't necessarily fall into a distinct role. Do you think that's one reason people have a hard time evaluating your game?

"Pretty much. Because they can't put me at a position. That's probably why. I'm comfortable inside and out. I started out playing basketball my first years as an inside player. I started moving out to the wing the summer of seventh grade and that worked out, too. I've always been comfortable inside and out."

When you look at your college career a year or two down the road, what do you think people can expect from you?

"I've always been a firm believer of ‘whatever Coach asks of me, I'm going to put it in my mind that I can do it.' I believe when Coach comes to me and tells me that he needs a certain thing done on the court that I can do it and I'm going to put it in my head that I can do it to my best ability. So I can't say I'm going to score 'blah blah blah' amount of points, 'blah blah blah' amount of rebounds. I'm just going to go out there and give it my all. Whatever we end up with, I know it's going to be a win. Whatever I end up with my stats is what I end up with."

Do you think your versatility is one thing that makes you valuable?

"Definitely, I can help my team in more than one way."

You're a talented passer for a wing forward, what's your approach to that?

"I like to get my teammates involved a lot. If I have the opportunity to get the assist and make it look good and my teammate will get a bucket (I'll take it). I get a different feeling from scoring than giving it up to my teammate for a nice play."

Who's your biggest influence or role model off the court?

"I'd have to say my grandfather. He's been my coach since I was about four years old. I grew up playing soccer under him. I stopped when I was about 12 but I would literally be with him every day of the week -- every day. We used to have to drive 50 minutes to an hour to our field for our team's practice. That's a lot of time to be in a car with a person and you end up finding out things, talking with a person about stuff and I just got a real close bond."

What is his personality like?

"Pretty much like mine -- really goofy, really easy to get along with, really easy to talk to. He's just really caring and loving. You can tell just talking with him that he's a smart guy. … He's kind of slow now, a little bit. It's kind of weird. He still has a six-pack and everything. He's still built but you don't see that under his shirt. You just see this old guy. But he can still move pretty quick. I know about a year and a half ago I challenged him to a race and I told him I'd give him a head start. He just looked at me funny and said OK. I gave him a 10-yard start on a 40-yard dash and he kicked my butt. I could not catch him and I'm pretty fast."

How old is he?

"My grandpa is about 62 now."

What do you respect the most about him?

"He's been through a lot. He grew up in west Africa -- Cameroon. He played soccer all of his life. He still does. He started out professionally playing for the Cameroon national team when he was about 14 years old which is really amazing to hear because at 14, I was just starting to play basketball and I could hardly think about a contract or having to deal with practice. Two a days, every day. Their training was kind of crazy. He ran me through the schedule one day of his life at 14 and it was pretty crazy. I just respect him because he was very hard working, still is hard working. He's dedicated. He's loyal. There's just something unique about him."

What are your goals at UNC?

"I want to win, just like anybody else would want to win. But I want to just ultimately have fun with my teammates. Enjoy those four years at college because I know how fast four years of high school went. I just remember when I was a freshman, I couldn't wait to be a senior. It just feels like that time blew by really fast. Now that I'm a senior I'm like ‘Dang, I wish I was a freshman.' You go through it again. But I really am excited to get to UNC and play. I think they're on the road to winning a national championship next year because the team they have is really good. I'm amazed at what they did this year beating Duke for the ACC championship and going all the way to the Elite Eight in the tournament. I just want to carry on the product that they've had and win an ACC championship and eventually win a national championship."

Do you have any individual goals?

"Not really. I'm not much of an individual guy. My dream is to make it to the NBA just like anybody else but I'm going to work hard and give it my all in everything I do. In the classroom, on the court. Just work hard overall."

Have you ever had your vertical leap measured?

"Yes, I have -- two weeks ago at the Best of the Best. It's a camp down in Atlanta, Ga. It was measured at 43 and ½ inches."

What was your favorite dunk that you've had in a game?

"Man, let me think. Last year, it was a rival game against Tosa East at their place. I got a fastbreak in about the second quarter and no one was with me. I noticed that right away. And I just windmilled it. Their crowd was like ‘Ohhh!' It was pretty amazing because it was a rival school, a crowd that chants at you the whole game. You're pretty much just amazed at what you just did. I was pretty excited about that one."

Why did you decide to stay at Menomonee Falls for your senior season?

"You know what? I just didn't need to leave. Most guys are at prep school because of a family situation or to get good looks at college or better looks, to get better competition. But I feel like I don't need to leave because I know what I need to work on. I have the people around me to help me. I have everything I need at home. I have family, friends, school, basketball team. I feel like I've been there three years. Why would I leave my senior year, leave all my buddies who have been wanting to play with me but haven't gotten a chance yet. I just want to have fun my senior year. Just enjoy it. It's going to be my last. You don't get to do high school twice unless you flunk."

How much are you lifting right now?

"The ideal week for me would be working out in the morning five days a week. Saturday and Sunday I go to the gym and work on basketball stuff for three or four hours."

What are you looking forward to about college?

"Just playing with the guys. I've gotten to know a lot of them already -- Reggie, Harrison, Kendall, John, Justin -- they're all great guys. Just getting to college and having fun. Of course staying on the books, but at the same time enjoying it."

When did it first occur to you that Carolina might be the place for you?

"When I got my scholarship offer. … I remember when Roy Williams first came to see me play. I had gotten used to coaches being at my games but with North Carolina in the house I had to do something special. I ended up having a really, really good game and that's the first time he saw me. He liked my game and started calling me a lot. By the June of my sophomore year he offered me a scholarship to North Carolina. I've always had a feeling in my heart that I wanted to go there. It was just whether I wanted to leave home or not."

What number do you want to wear?

"I haven't come to a conclusion yet. I'm still thinking about it."

Last year's NBPA camp was frustrating for you. Is this camp one you circled on your calendar?

"Oh yeah, this was on my agenda. I was looking forward to coming here and having a better year than last year. I've had a better year than last year so far and my team is 3-0 ... But I'm having a blast though. Last year I didn't know too many guys … and I think that was part of my problem. I wasn't too comfortable."

Who is your favorite all-time player at Carolina?

"You know that's who I've been compared to -- Vince Carter. Being able to run the floor, step out and shoot, glide to the hoop. I think I compare to Vince Carter. So I like Vince's game a lot. Of course Michael is the all-time greatest, so those two guys."

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