Up Close: J.P. Tokoto, Part II

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. --- As top players from around the country descend on Milwaukee for the Brandon Jennings Invitational, you get the feeling that the true host of the event isn't really Jennings. In fact, Jennings is 2,000 miles away playing in Los Angeles.

Staff at the host high school of Milwaukee Marquette certainly didn't feel in much control either, not even being aware of game times just a few days before the tip.

Though his name isn't in the title of the gathering and the games are at a rival gymnasium, the feeling around town is that the real host is J.P. Tokoto. After all, the event didn't exist until Tokoto's climb to relevance on the prospect scene. Beyond that, certainly Tokoto himself with his AAU experience is more familiar with the other elite high school players from around the country than most local fans.

"Glenn Robinson (III) and I have been talking a lot and texting," Tokoto said. "It makes the game a lot more fun because it's a little different than going to Plymouth (Wisc.) where I'm expected to do so much and people come to see me instead of the team."

Event organizers had to have some thought in the matchup as well, Tokoto and his Menomonee Falls Indians facing Robinson III and Lake Central of Indiana. Robinson's father played two miles down the block for the Milwaukee Bucks, becoming the franchise's second all-time leading scorer and earning many fans along the way.

The game doesn't disappoint with the two young prep stars exchanging dunks, aggressive moves to the bucket and smooth jump shots. With the crowd hanging on every possible Tokoto or Robinson touch, it seems the other eight players are sucked into a void. When a boisterous fan heckles the Menomonee Falls bench during a timeout, telling Tokoto to shoot the ball every time he touches it, thoughts of critical scouting reports of his unselfishness come to mind.

"With the scouts they like to see the guys that put up big numbers and take the ball everytime to shoot," Tokoto said. "It's more about the team than just one individual and that's what the scouts look at - they go to see individuals."

"My teammates keep me grounded and sometimes I come to them and talk about it, I'll try to look in the crowd and see who's saying it but my teammates keep me grounded through it and keep me in the game."

In the last showcase event of Tokoto's acclaimed prep career, he expressed both excitement and relief to move on to finishing his final high school season. These types of games, with opportunities to play against high profile recruits, would have an impact on any team's season. The hope is that the impact will be a positive one for Tokoto and his teammates.

"We know we are blessed to have these opportunities because of J.P.'s abilities and skills," Menomonee Falls head coach Dan Leffel said. "Just like anything, the more experience you have at something like playing in front of big crowds the better you will be when sectionals rolls around." Catching up with friends from around the country one last time before many will head out to major Division I programs is something Tokoto looked forward to. Despite often times being on opposing teams, Tokoto explains that it's nice to have other kids to relate to when going through the recruiting process.

"Having another guy there that is going to a D-I college, especially someone you know is going to be a fun game and a good matchup," Tokoto said. "We were definitely looking forward to it."

Despite the individual matchup living up to expectations, with Tokoto going for 28 points and Robinson 33, the game itself was a blowout win for the visitors from Lake Central.

As chapters continue to close on the final prep season for Tokoto, Leffel hopes that the media attention, the summer camps, the state tournament games and everything else will have helped him to prepare for what he faces at the next level. Leffel knows that beyond what Tokoto has learned on the basketball court he has also learned off the court and he believes North Carolina is getting not just a special player but a special person.

"I think character is a huge aspect of building a person," Leffel said. "In my teaching I always strive to let people know that you have to act a certain way to in order to move forward in this world."

Sometimes that's more important than just wins and losses - J.P.'s parents have put that in perspective for him."

J.P. Tokoto Profile

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