Season Wrap-Up: J.P. Tokoto

Menomonee Falls (Wisc.) head coach Dan Leffel just completed his first season as a high school varsity basketball coach. That alone isn't much to note unless you consider that Leffel had the opportunity to coach UNC-bound J.P. Tokoto's final prep season.

It was determined early last May that Leffel would get the head coaching job during a rather contentious time surrounding Tokoto and the plans for his senior season. Ultimately Tokoto and his family decided to stay put at Menomonee Falls and because of that the 6-6 forward was able to work his way deep into the school's record books while working on his game with Leffel.

Leffel understood the changing of the guard and the added pressure of the pairing, but he thought Tokoto handled things well during tough circumstances.

"I think that J.P.'s demeanor was a lot more positive this year," Leffel said. "He has always had the character off the court but on the court it seemed much more positive because he knew this was his last year here.

"His reputation was on the line and if the team didn't do well he knew it would fall on him so he was under an unbelievable amount of pressure."

Under that pressure, Tokoto's numbers went up on all counts. He averaged a double-double, plus 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals. The team finished with 14 victories, an improvement over last season, despite a heavily inexperienced squad outside of Tokoto and point guard C.J. Malone.

"Coming into the season we had 10 guys on the team that had only played a combined 20 varsity minutes the previous year to go with J.P. and C.J.," Leffel said. "When you surround him with players that have little experience it's no wonder we started slow."

With the slow start to the season Tokoto was under even more scrutiny with each passing game. Dealing with summer scouting reports that said his outside shot wasn't where it needed to be and that perhaps he was too unselfish with the ball, Tokoto sometimes took things into his own hands -- and, frankly, sometimes that was what his team needed. He knocked down 31 three-pointers, at a 30 percent clip, which was a marked improvement from his junior season's long-range numbers.

"It's one of those things that, yes, he did want to show everyone what he could do but we concentrated on starting out the game getting inside and working out from there," Leffel said. "We talked about stepping into the three and when you're set up with a pass, those are the shots you can take and make.

"He made four times as many threes this year over last year so that shows that his confidence did go up on his outside game."

Still, Tokoto is at his best as a penetrate-first player.

"It sometimes came down to does he take the shot that he wants or does he take the shot that the defense wants him to take?" Leffel said. "He is so great getting to the rim and finishing with a dunk or with a short jump shot more so then when he settles on the 16 to 18 footer. It was all a process and it depended on the game and the situation."

Tokoto continued to struggle some games with free-throws, as his season numbers at the line dipped to 56.0 percent. . For a player that excels going to the basket and drawing contact in the lane, it is recognized by his coach as a noteworthy area for improvement.

"He does have an old routine that he was reverting back to at times," Leffel said. "I think he shot it better when he was taking his time, bending his knees, taking a breath and going up in one fluid motion."

"He used to have a couple of hesitations in his free throw that would end up taking his body out of the flow of the shot and he was missing short and to the right."

The biggest improvement Leffel saw in Tokoto throughout the year was his ability to create shots for his teammates and trust them enough to put the ball in their hands. On two different occasions during the season Tokoto served up double-digit assist totals on his way to averaging a career high in assists per game.

By choosing to stay at Menomonee Falls for his senior season, Tokoto managed to break 14 school records, most notably for all-time points, rebounds and steals. He also led his team in scoring each of his four seasons, something Leffel attributes to his work ethic and drive.

"He stayed late after practices, always showed up to early shootaround and went to a trainer five days a week in order to get stronger during the season," Leffel said. "He went to camps playing against the best competition in the country and showed that he does belong with these players not just on athleticism alone but with a lot of other parts of his game."

J.P. Tokoto Profile

Inside Carolina Top Stories