Tokoto on Point

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On a North Carolina roster loaded with five point guards, it’s junior wing J.P. Tokoto that leads the team in assists by a significant margin.

“He’s the best passer on our team,” sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks said. “One of the best in the ACC, in my opinion. It’s just his ability to see the floor.”

The stats tend to agree. Not only does Tokoto lead UNC with 38 assists – Marcus Paige is second with 27 – but he also ranks sixth in the ACC in assists per game (4.8) and T-12th in assist-turnover ratio (2.5).

It’s one thing for a player to pass to a teammate, who then knocks down a tough 18-foot jumper. Tokoto, however, has shown an ability to make the Kendall Marshall-type pass, according to assistant coach C. B. McGrath. The type of pass where his teammates just have to lay the ball in the basket.

Tokoto scored 19 points in UNC’s win over East Carolina on Sunday, although it was his 8:1 assist-turnover ratio that stood out on the stat sheet. Two of those assists were to sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks, who dunked both passes from Tokoto.

“The dude can pass,” said freshman wing Theo Pinson, who is third on the team with 20 assists. “Honestly, I see the stuff he sees at the same time, so I’m like, ‘Well, I would have thrown that, too.’ But, you know, I’m a freshman, so I can’t take as many chances as he can. He’s a great passer. He’s always looking for the open man, so it’s fun playing with him.”

Paige also joined into the passing praise game, saying, ”He has great vision and he can handle the ball really well, so it’s almost like having another point guard out there on the court.”

Tokoto prefers the point forward label. In an effort to take pressure off Paige, UNC head coach Roy Williams has started calling plays to utilize Tokoto’s passing ability. One play that UNC used several times against the Pirates included a slip screen option with forward Brice Johnson and a secondary perimeter pass option to Paige.

“With the improvement of my vision from last year and my improvement in ball handling, Coach trusts me with the ball more now,” Tokoto said. “There are a lot of plays that Marcus looks to run through me because he knows that I’m going to make the heads-up play and hit the open teammate.”

Meeks told reporters following the ECU win that Tokoto had spurts of effective passing last season despite forcing too many passes. The Menomonee Falls, Wisc. native’s maturation and experience have parlayed into the game slowing down for him.

It also helps, according to Tokoto, to have more offensive weapons playing alongside of him this season.

“I have great teammates that finish tough plays,” Tokoto said. “When you have teammates like that, assists are going to rack up. If you make the easy pass, it’s an easy play.”

Tokoto, who is on pace to top his assist total (104) from last season by the end of January, still has room for improvement, according to McGrath.

“He’s a risk taker,” McGrath said on Monday night. “He tries to make the great pass and right now they’re working. We’d like him to make the easier play at times, but he’s doing a great job of getting our guys really easy shots.”

For a team that has struggled to consistently score this season, the easier the field goal attempts, the better.

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