J.P. Tokoto knows there are North Carolina fans who can’t get their heads around his decision to turn pro with a season of eligibility remaining.
Tokoto said Thursday his choice to leave Chapel Hill came down to this: He was never going to fix what needs fixing in his game while rationing his time between basketball and college.
“I had to do something about my jump shot. I didn’t want to worry about school, just worry about basketball,” Tokoto said at the NBA Draft Combine.
“That (extra) time I can put in in the gym is crucial. That was one of the main elements in my decision: The time-management element. Getting into the gym and not worrying about getting enough sleep to be up for class the next morning.”
Some have called Tokoto’s decision rash and short-sighted in part because he’s doubtful to be chosen in the first round June 25 and also because the Tar Heels could be one of college basketball’s top teams next season.
Tokoto asserted Thursday there was nothing rash about his process. He thought about this for months, discussing the subject frequently with family. While his choice came as a surprise to coach Roy Williams, that doesn’t mean Tokoto jumped to a conclusion.
Quite the contrary: He’s convinced his flawed jump shot wouldn’t have improved had he stayed in Chapel Hill. So he committed to spending time this spring at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., breaking down and reassembling the mechanics of his shot.
If Thursday’s game was any indication, he’s progressed. The NBA has re-instituted five-on-five games as part of the Combine. Thursday Tokoto shot 6-of-6, including his only 3-point attempt. He also had five rebounds and two assists.
Tokoto said he caught Williams off-guard when he turned pro, but over time Williams grew comfortable with Tokoto’s choice.
“When I first told him, yes,” Tokoto said of Williams’ surprise. “But he was 100 percent supportive of me, as was my family. That was huge for me.”
Shooting well in one Combine game doesn’t figure to launch Tokoto into the first round, where contracts are guaranteed for two seasons. But what better time to play well than in front of every front office in the NBA? Tokoto couldn’t stop grinning after Thursday’s game because he knows this was the best first step in changing perception.
“Every time I interview (with an NBA team) the jump shot comes up,” Tokoto said. “Today shows I’ve been working on it. To go out there and look so fluid is important for me.”
Tokoto has already interviewed with the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. He has NBA talent at the defensive end. He grew up a soccer player in Wisconsin so he has good footwork, plus good hands and reflexes.
“Defensive tenacity,” Tokoto said of his best attribute. “I’ll get out there in passing lanes and get steals, I’ll rebound and as you can tell today, I’m much more comfortable out there at the NBA 3-point line.”
And he owns his choices.
“You have to be confident in yourself,” Tokoto said. “You can’t do something like this and then be, ‘I probably could have made a better decision.’”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell