Tokoto chooses basketball over soccer, displays natural athleticism for UNC

first_imgWhen he was 15, J.P. Tokoto had to choose whether to stick with soccer, the sport his grandfather played professionally, or continue to pursue basketball, the sport that seemed to cater to his height and blossoming athleticism. He chose basketball, which at first was difficult for his grandfather to accept. The elder Tokoto, also named J.P., was the youngest player in the history of the Cameroonian national soccer team at age 15. He always believed his grandson would play soccer at a high level, too. “That was big for my dad to do,” Laurence Trimble, J.P.’s mother, said. “For him to give that blessing and tell J.P., ‘Listen buddy, I see a lot of potential in you playing basketball, you might have to follow that dream’ — that was huge.”Despite picking basketball over soccer, Tokoto still uses his grandfather as a resource. Now a starter for No. 15 North Carolina, he blends freakish jumping ability with tenacity on defense and a team-leading 4.1 assists. Tokoto will be a key cog when the Tar Heels (16-4, 6-1 Atlantic Coast) host Syracuse (14-6, 5-2) on Monday at 7 p.m.North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said Tokoto, who saw significant minutes his first two years, has become more consistent this season for a UNC team that has won 10 of its last 11 games.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s had some unbelievable games,” Williams said. “He can make a great block or a great steal that jumps out at people.”When he was 18, J.P. Tokoto disobeyed his mother to jumpstart his professional career—the elder Tokoto, that is. His mother forbid him from traveling to France to play professional soccer, but Tokoto, now 66, didn’t listen. He knew — as the younger Tokoto now knows — he had to make constant sacrifices to achieve his professional dream. His sister was a flight attendant, and she helped him sneak on a plane traveling from Cameroon to France. Tokoto went on to play on the 1982 Cameroonian World Cup team.Decades later, nearly every weekend, Trimble drove her son one hour, 25 minutes, from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, to Rockland, Illinois to her father. There, J.P. became his grandfather’s protégé on the soccer field.“He was my first coach,” Tokoto said. “I started out with soccer when I was 4 or 5 years old.” Tokoto didn’t just play — he excelled. He played in an older age group and was still faster and more nimble than most players. When he shifted to basketball, Tokoto was well equipped to succeed. In soccer and basketball, Tokoto said, it’s imperative to not look down when dribbling. The key is to keep the ball in front and search for teammates. He used to work with his grandfather on soccer agility drills and increasing his stamina, which gave him an advantage when he ultimately switched to basketball.“I’ve learned a lot from him that I use in basketball,” Tokoto said. “My work ethic, part of it comes from my grandfather, knowing what he accomplished.”Tokoto still plays soccer on occasion. If he hears about a pickup game he doesn’t hesitate to join. But with 2013–14 ACC All-Defensive team honors to his name, it’s clear Tokoto made the right decision to switch sports. That’s not to say he doesn’t still keep in touch with his grandfather. They still talk on the phone often. The elder Tokoto shares countless stories with the entire family. One time he played against Pelé. Another time, as the story goes, Cameroonian fans climbed onto poles to peek into the stadium to see his last game for the national team. The most important facet of their relationship to this day is that the elder Tokoto knows what his grandson is experiencing.“We always talk about whether I’m working as hard as I should be, am I happy, those kind of things,” Tokoto said. “He’s definitely someone I can very easily relate to.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 26, 2015 at 12:25 am Contact Trevor: [email protected] | @TrevorHasslast_img

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