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Investing in his future

Tokoto banking on hard work to pay big dividends in career

J.P. Tokoto (left) works with Steve Becker, owner of Athlete Performance in Mequon, last week. Tokoto is a junior at Menomonee Falls.

J.P. Tokoto (left) works with Steve Becker, owner of Athlete Performance in Mequon, last week. Tokoto is a junior at Menomonee Falls. Photo By Rick Wood

Nov. 14, 2010

enomonee Falls — Menomonee Falls - Deliberately yet with a purpose, Jean-Pierre Tokoto makes his way from one station to the next.

Squats at a squat rack followed by lunges with dumbbells. Box jumps followed by front raises with a 45-pound weight plate as trainer Steve Becker whacks him on the forearms to simulate contact around the basket.

On and on Tokoto goes, finally finishing the circuit about an hour and a half later only to head back to Menomonee Falls High School for some extra shooting with his teammates - and this is on a school night, with homework to follow.

To some, the regimen might seem like torture. To Tokoto, who is one of the most highly sought-after basketball recruits ever to emerge from the state, it's just another chapter in what father Trevor Trimble refers to as the "Book of Sacrifice."

Before Menomonee Falls even begins official practice, Tokoto - a 6-foot-6, 180-pound junior wing - is in the best shape of his life, with plenty of room to improve. And truth be told, with scholarship offers from every one of college basketball's blue blood programs, Tokoto doesn't have to work himself like this.

His natural abilities have gotten him further than most high school players ever could dream. But Tokoto isn't looking for the easy way out. As good as he is, his goal is to be better.

"The kid just comes in and works his butt off every time," says Becker, owner of Athlete Performance in Mequon. "He's progressively getting stronger. He's growing into a man."

Early offers

Tokoto already was growing into his own as a middle-schooler, an athlete who'd thrown down his first dunk as a 6-1 seventh-grader and received his first scholarship offer, from Iowa State, before he'd even played a game in high school.

He averaged 11.6 points per game as a freshman at Menomonee Falls, and not long thereafter was offered a scholarship by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan had offered Tokoto a scholarship by that point as well.

A breakout summer in 2009 only fanned the recruiting flames, and heading into his sophomore year, Tokoto held offers from many of the game's heavy hitters. He did his part on the court, upping his scoring to 18.6 points per game and leading the Indians to within a game of their first state tournament appearance for the second straight year in March.

Tokoto then enjoyed a solid spring on the AAU circuit with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors before he experienced his first bumps in the road. He struggled at the Nike Hoop Jamboree in mid-June and then again at the NBA Players Association Top 100 camp, leading to a drop in the national rankings and prompting some to question whether he was as good as advertised.

"He had set the bar so high that if you don't live up to those expectations, people start to wonder if your game's falling off," said Playground Warriors coach Ritchie Davis. "But it was a good test for him. He had been so dominant that to face a little adversity wasn't a bad thing."

Tokoto's mother, Laurence, saw the toll the NBA camp experience took on her son during a chat the two had in the stands during a break in the action.

"It was the shock of not playing on a 'team,' because he's such a team player," she said. "That was his first time dealing with adversity this summer."

Strong finish

Tokoto was able to finish strongly, doing what he could defensively and on the boards, and his stock among those recruiting him wasn't adversely affected by his showing at either camp. In fact, North Carolina coach Roy Williams called Tokoto at 12:01 a.m. June 15 - the earliest allowable time for Class of 2012 prospects - to extend a scholarship offer.

Still, it was a lesson learned for Tokoto.

"I hadn't ever had any experiences like that, so I didn't know how to deal with it right away," Tokoto said. "It was just kind of an eye-opener for me, like, 'This is what can happen and I've got to learn how to deal with it.' And I did learn to deal with it.

"If I'm ever faced with something like that again, I know how to fix it. But I look back on it now, I'm mad that it happened."

After the NBA camp, the decision was made to take Tokoto off the AAU circuit, except for one tournament in Las Vegas, in order to shore up his weaknesses - specifically his midrange game. He also increased the amount of time he worked out with Becker.

From that point to the end of the summer, Tokoto worked out with Becker 62 out of a possible 65 days, focusing on improving his strength, balance and explosiveness. Throw in the on-court practice Tokoto did in the gym, and his summer workouts averaged 4 to 5 hours a day.

He'll still work out with Becker once the high school season begins, but scale back to three days a week with strength-specific sessions.

"Every week, every month, every year," Trimble reminds Tokoto, "you have to be able to look back and be able to tell the story of the sacrifices that you made."

Right now, Tokoto boasts a measured 40-inch vertical leap, a 210-pound bench press and 315-pound squat. Those numbers, coupled with 4% body fat, place Tokoto in some special company.

"He's just as explosive as anybody I've ever worked with," said Becker, a Grafton High School and UW-Milwaukee graduate who has worked in recent years as an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.

Quite a jump

"J.P. jumps out of the gym. He's 6-6 and he's touching 12 feet - that's 2 feet above the rim. He ranks up there, out of the athletes I've worked with in the league, with Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Redd."

As dedicated as he is to honing his body and his game, Tokoto still has fun with his friends. He's even brought them on some of the unofficial visits he's taken to colleges, in order to share the experience.

A year from now it's expected Tokoto will have whittled his potential suitors down to one and signed a national letter of intent. What's also expected by most is he'll leave the state for Duke, North Carolina, Kansas or Kentucky.

Not so fast, Tokoto says.

"It's not going to be just because Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky offered me I'm going to leave the state," he said. "It's going to be one of those decisions where I want to stay in-state or I want to go out of state for school. Everybody's in the running. There's no favorites."

Tokoto, who enters the season ranked No. 35 in the Class of 2012 by Scout.com and No. 40 by Rivals.com, also has a clear view of what he wants out of his future school.

"Of course, all the schools that offered me and I'm looking at have great educational programs," he said. "No. 2 would probably be playing time and what's their roster looking like, who they're recruiting the next couple years. The coach - is he going to stay or is he going to leave?"

For now, though, Tokoto has his sights on getting Menomonee Falls over the hump and into the state tournament. Taking into account the amount of work he's put in, it wouldn't be wise to bet against him.

"Our first game, we should just go out there like we did the last two seasons and just blow teams right out of the water," he said. "Make a statement right out of the gate. My teammates and I talk about it all the time. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Time for hoops

• Boys basketball practices start Monday, with the first games scheduled for Nov. 23.

• Girls teams begin workouts Wednesday. Their first games are scheduled for Nov. 26.

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