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SI: Behind the Scenes of J.P. Tokoto's Decision

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Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Excellent piece from Daniel Wilco(of Daily Tar Heel fame, now interning at Sports Illustrated) on J.P. Tokoto's decision to forgo his senior season in favor of entering the NBA Draft.

Tokoto's decision was somewhat surprising when it was announced and the reaction complicated by the justifications Tokoto gave for starting his professional career ahead of schedule. From the earlier Yahoo piece:

“I feel like there can be a lot more to me as a player, more than just the defensive player who can occasionally dunk the ball,” Tokoto told Yahoo Sports. “I know I can be so much more, but I’m not sure that I’m pushed to be that much more [in college].

“I want to focus on my game, working with trainers and pro coaches over the summer and next year. I think that’ll give me the best chance to grow than staying in school and being that player that fit into the mold of my first three years [at Carolina].”

Tokoto's statements were taken as a shot across the bow of Roy Williams and forwarded the notion that he wasn't developing at UNC. The reality is Tokoto's role on the team was a limiting factor as evidenced in the first Duke game in 2015 Wilco writes:

“J.P. was the fifth option on North Carolina,” Trimble said. “Did that sit well with him? Probably not. What competitor would want to be the fifth option when in high school you were the first option? That’s a transition. And I think that’s a transition that he never completely came to peace with. You question whether you belong. You question, ‘Do they need me?’”

Tokoto never harbored any animosity toward his teammates. Leaving them was the hardest part of this process. But he realized that playing second, or even fifth, fiddle for yet another year would get him no closer to an NBA roster. He was a role player for UNC, and that’s all the team would want from him as a senior.

“There’s nothing against North Carolina,” he said. “I loved playing for Coach Roy Williams. But as far as improving my game and investing in myself, investing in my stock for the NBA with these scouts, offensively, nothing was going to change for me.”

The argument could be made that Tokoto could change his position in the offensive pecking order by working on his jump shot and improving to a point where he was a high option. That being said, even a dedicated offseason of work on his offensive game probably wasn't going to permit him to supplant Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson as primary wing scoring options. Tokoto was destined for the Jackie Manuel/Marcus Ginyard/Dexter Strickland wing spot with limited offensive expectations. Defense and rebounds would be Tokoto's focus next season. Another season of that was not going to help his draft stock.

Also of note is how much James Michael McAdoo sticking with the Golden State Warriors and being part of a NBA Championship winning team served as inspiration for Tokoto. McAdoo's choice to leave was similar to Tokoto's. Another year in school wasn't going to change his draft stock so why not jump into the professional ranks and see what happens? Tokoto probably won't end up on a title team but McAdoo showed as did Danny Green and countless others, there are many ways to get to the NBA.

I'll leave this right here just in case Larry Drew is reading.

A week after the original end-of-season meeting, Tokoto called for another. His mother, Laurence, pleaded with Trimble to fly out with their son, to be there for him when it was over. Trimble joined the Tokoto family when he married Laurence 13 years ago, “but that’s my dad,” Tokoto said. “He’s been there for me since Day One.”

This time, the best way for Trimble to be there for his son, was not to be.

“Absolutely not,” Trimble said. “J.P., you need to take this flight back and you’re going to have to go in there and step up to the plate and express this to your coach. You owe that to him.”