Posted On: January 28, 2015
By Turner Walston
Junior guard J.P. Tokoto leads the Tar Heels in assists at better than four per game and is tied for the team lead with 26 steals. He sat down with CAROLINA's Turner Walston for an exclusive interview.
Turner Walston: Lately, you're getting a lot of recognition for your passing and court vision. Is that something that we're just now noticing, or has it improved from year to year?
J.P. Tokoto: If you look at the stats and compare them from last year to this year, you see how they've jumped a little bit, but honestly I think it's just coming from my teammates. I've got guys that get to the open spots, and when the defense is drawing toward me if I drive, for example, or even if I have the ball, I have the confidence that I can hit an open teammate and that open teammate is going to make the shot. That's what it comes down to. I can make a great play or pass, but if they don't finish the basket, then it doesn't count. So, I feel like it's my teammates more than anything.
TW: Are you better at recognizing open teammates?
JPT: Definitely. I've always been able to hit an open teammate and use that court vision. I played a lot of point guard in my senior year of high school, so I feel like that helped a lot in transitioning to college. As far as anything changing, I worked on my ball-handling, which helps a lot, I don't have to look down at the ball at all when I'm dribbling. I feel like it just comes down to teammates finishing plays.
TW: How have you grown more confident in your role, and what the coaches have asked of you?
JPT: I haven't really been 'asked' to do much. Of course, on the defensive end, to get a stop if we need it, guard their toughest player, if it's not a big man. And make good plays on the offensive end. If I see a drive, if I see a lane, take it. If I see an open jump shot, take it. If it's a good shot, take it. That's pretty much it, basically. Not much has changed from last year. A little bit more is expected of me because I am a junior, so I'm kind of showing the younger guys the ropes. They've done a great job of adjusting to the college game, even early on. There isn't much that they ask about. There were a few things that Justin and Theo would have a question about, even Joel Berry, but they picked up very quickly. They've done tremendously well.
TW: Have you felt the coaches become more confident in you as you've become more experienced?
JPT: Definitely. That's with age. That's with time. Freshman year, Coach wouldn't have expected me to hit threes or make the passes I make now. It's a learning process, and that's what was stressed my freshman year and from my freshman to sophomore year, because my playing time went from four and five minutes a game to about 30, and I needed to learn quickly, just like Marcus did when he first got here. So I feel like much more was expected more of me last year than it was this year, but at the same time there's still a lot that I need to learn.
TW: But it was a big leap from freshman to sophomore year.
JPT: Definitely, because we still had P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald here, expecting them to be with us during the season. When that news came out, we were like, 'OK, now we've got to adjust.' Fortunately, it worked out in more than one way.
TW: When I played intramurals, I knew exactly how many points I had, how many rebounds I had at all times. Are you that way?
JPT: In high school, I wasn't at all, and I'm a little more conscious of it now, just because in high school, for me, a triple-double was pretty cool and I'd always try to achieve that. I was lucky enough to do that a few times during my career. When I'm here, it's more focusing on getting to the rebounds, getting those assists, finding open teammates, getting a good screen and coming off the screen and looking for the shot . . . if I don't have the shot, try to create something. I will say, when we're in the game, I do try to keep track of my assists. I do like that, because I'm leading the team in assists right now, and I'd like to keep it that way. That's pretty nice. But as far as points and rebounds, I don't really try to keep that because I feel like that blocks my focus.
TW: It seems to me that you are willing to do whatever it takes in the moment to help the team win.
JPT: Definitely. I'm a competitor. Everybody on our team is a competitor, a fierce competitor at that, and everybody wants to win. If you have the tools that can help your team achieve that, then why not go out and do your best?
TW: Your shooting has improved, but it seems that so has your shot selection. Would you agree with that?
JPT: Definitely. It comes with time. You know when to take a shot and when not to, and I've been open a lot this year. I'm starting to knock down out to the three-point shot. Mid-range, I feel great. I've always felt good in the mid-range. I'm starting to make defenses respect us more from an outside shooting aspect. They know we can hit the three, so they're going to guard us. If they play too high on us, driving by them will be a lot easier than if they're sagging off.
TW: The team has played a lot of close games lately. What are you learning from them?
JPT: You look at the things that were needed to do to get that win, or the things that weren't done that potentially cost us the win. If you're as competitive as I am, you always think about the plays that you could have made. There was a play where I turned the ball over and it could have led to a basket. That's two points; we would have won by one (against Notre Dame). So, it's all about learning from your mistakes and taking that and applying it in practice and the next game. You try and make yourself better, so you don't make the same play again. Or if it is a good play, try and do more of that.