Midseason Report: J.P. Tokoto

MENOMONEE FALLS, Wisc. --- Despite an up and down first half of the season for the Menomonee Falls (Wisc.) Indians basketball team, North Carolina recruit J.P. Tokoto and his development has been mainly a positive matter.

Head coach Dan Leffel's team is teetering at the .500 mark and dealing with some off the court issues, but on the court his star player has been at his best.

The facets of Tokoto's game that have never really been in question are still intact so far in his final high school season. With his athleticism and length Tokoto has managed to add to his total of highlight reel finishes and fluid fast break runs this season while his solid positional rebounding (8.6/game) is still supplemented by an outrageous jumping ability.

Tokoto is facing an increasing amount of zone defenses in an attempt to limit his scoring plays around the basket and to force him into more jump shots. Opponents are quickly finding out that Tokoto has an improved jumper and range to go with it.

"They try to get the ball out of his hands a lot and it's attributed to the defenses that we are facing," Leffel said. "His three-point shot has really improved, he's making two or three a game but the thing we want him to do is still to continue getting into the lane."

Against those zones and double -- and sometimes triple -- teams, Tokoto's shooting at 54.3 percent clip from the field, including 32.4 percent on three-point attempts.

"He's still a slasher more so but he's showing off that he can shoot the ball."

Whatever his high school opposition has drawn up to stop Tokoto offensively clearly has not been working. Tokoto is averaging 25.1 points per game and has accounted for 46 percent of his team's made field goals.

By raising his scoring average by five points a game this season Tokoto surged past Brad Christenson to become the school's all-time leading scorer. By hitting that mark halfway through the season, the record should be his for a long time.

The various zone defenses have not managed to keep Tokoto off the line. By attacking off of rebounds and fast breaks before the defense can set up, Tokoto has managed to earn free throws at about the same rate as last season. Although his free throw accuracy leaves a lot of room for improvement (52.7% through 14 games), he has improved his scoring rate by being involved as much as possible on the court.

"His endurance is not an issue and he barely gets taken out," Leffel said. "He trains every single day and works very hard so that endurance is never an issue for him.

"I think it's his competitive fire that keeps him so much in the game and that's what I admire about him."

Defensively the 6-6 senior has been asked to contribute almost as much as he has on offense. As a team Menomonee Falls has given up about two more baskets a game compared to last year despite having faced a more daunting schedule. Tokoto, like many players of his stature, is called upon to guard the opponents' best offensive threat no matter what position.

"J.P. gets put on the best player on the other team every game because he has such great length that he can disrupt a lot of shots," Leffel said. "He has that assignment every single night whether it's a shooter or a top inside guy so it's a good challenge for him."

Challenges associated with guarding the best player on the floor at all times aren't always easy with Tokoto balancing his penchant to make athletic plays with his need to play an all-around offensive performance. His coach points out that although at times Tokoto's aggressiveness can cost him, more often than not it yields positive results.

"I think he has always been aggressive on defense and sometimes when he is off the ball he's not in his spot on help side that he needs to be," Leffel said of Tokoto, who is averaging a team high 2.6 steals per game. "On the ball I think he's very good, he may reach a little bit but that is because he is trying to make a play."

"You can never fault a guy for being aggressive and I don't want to rein him in at all."

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