UNC's J.P. Tokoto flies high before fall

DURHAM, N.C. -- As per long-standing rules, North Carolina basketball freshmen are not allowed to talk to the media before playing in their first official game. Thus, new Tar Heels wing J.P. Tokoto couldn’t answer any questions about what might have been the favorite dunk he threw down during Thursday night’s Greater NC Pro-Am.

With such a plethora during his 19-point performance, it was hard to choose, anyway. It even took teammate Leslie McDonald, a redshirt junior, a moment to ponder.

“I liked his first, when he came from the dotted line and just soared through the air and dunked,” said McDonald, who watched from the stands alongside Tar Heels P.J. Hairston, Jackson Simmons, Desmond Hubert and Brice Johnson. “It set the stage.”

Indeed, Tokoto, a 6-foot-5 wing from Wisconsin whose athleticism has been compared to that of Vince Carter, made a show out of the final game of the night. In the pregame layup lines, he brought the crowd to its tiptoes with a between-the-legs jam, followed by a couple of windmills.

Then during the game, he added at least five highlight-worthy dunks -- including a pretty breakaway 360 -- before he rolled his right ankle on his own follow shot in the fourth quarter. It made for a scary moment, as he limped out of view beside the bleachers with his UNC teammates rushing to check on him.

“I saw him walk off the court, so I knew it wasn’t that bad,” said McDonald, who tore his ACL in this event last summer, forcing him to redshirt the season. “But I told him, ‘Shut it down. It’s a wrap. Take your jersey off. Ice your ankle, and get ready for the season.’ He’s got a lot of things in store.”

Tokoto returned to the bench quickly, telling everyone within earshot, “It’s all good.”

And it looks like it will be. The intel on the newcomer is that he’s an incredible athlete who still needs to hone his jump shot. With the likes of fellow wings McDonald, Hairston and Reggie Bullock pushing him -- as well as new assistant Hubert Davis coaching him -- he’ll have plenty of opportunities to improve.

The only downside of Thursday night was that his ankle tweak kept him from throwing down another dunk. Or three.

“He’s a very athletic kid, very explosive,’’ McDonald said. “We see it in pickup games all the time -- him getting above the rim, getting rebounds.

“I knew J.P. was going to get a couple of dunks tonight, but I didn’t think it was going to be like this. I’m just glad he’s on my team.”

Other UNC notes from Thursday night’s games….

  • Here's some footage of Tokoto's dunks, from Inside Carolina.

  • Tokoto’s performance made up for the fact that Tar Heels Bullock and Joel James were supposed to team with him, but didn’t show. McDonald said Bullock is out of town, and that James, a freshman forward, was tired after a workout with strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian. Duke's Quinn Cook and Marshall Plumlee were on the Banks Law Firm team, however; Tokoto even assisted Plumlee on a dunk.

  • McDonald’s team didn’t play Thursday, but he had 21 points Tuesday night: ”I’m just glad to be in this event,’’ he said. “Obviously, this is where I hurt myself. But to be able to come back and play the same way I played last year, and do the same things, it’s a blessing. Because I didn’t really know if I was going to be here.”

  • Games continue next Tuesday night at NC Central University. Click here for the schedule.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.