Let me make this clear right up front: In the end, J.P. Tokoto and his family had absolutely nothing to do with now former Menomonee Falls boys basketball coach Ben Siebert's decision to step down last week.
Nothing at all. The family has said so emphatically and the school administration confirms it, and I have very good reason to believe they are telling me the truth.
Enough blame to go around
It's a front page story and a sad one at that. What's sadder still, and more in the background, is that Tokoto and his family have been the subject of all kinds of vitriol about how things disintegrated this past season for the Falls team and its disappointing 11-12 season.
Lord knows, there's enough blame for that to go around.
Maybe the players did tune out Siebert at times (stories about getting haircuts instead of going to practice, repeated complaints about team effort, among other things) or maybe Siebert didn't know how to communicate with them or be able to inspire them in tough games.
Combine that with the whole circus around the two-time all-stater and now three-time All-Suburban selection Tokoto and maybe that was enough of a distraction to take the edge off things and lead to this death spiral of a campaign that was light years away from the happy, joyous memories of the GMC championship 2009-2010 campaign.
Lots of things could have been done to make this year a little easier, but it would have been hard under the almost theatrical circumstances that surrounded the season. As everyone involved might remember, the Falls School District had to instill special rules in December about selling tickets to home games, because the demand to see Tokoto was so high.
It was a small piece of financial fresh air to a district that is facing some brutal decisions about budget shortfalls and teacher layoffs.
And maybe the Tokoto family could have toned down the noise a little surrounding his college selection process (the whole Dave & Busters thing was a bit over the top) and maybe the kid himself could have been a more vocal leader on this team, too, and stepped up a little more at crucial times in big games.
But remember, it was a very difficult schedule with every opponent zoned in on trying to stop him, and also recall, the team was just not very deep this year.
And then there's the whole question of whether he will return to Falls for his senior year or choose to prepare himself for elite-level NCAA basketball by going to a major prep school out east. That's an understandably difficult decision for Tokoto and the family and they will no doubt make it reasonably soon. They have said they will act in Tokoto's best interests.
And why shouldn't they?
Pressure on Tokoto
But these are all 'what-ifs?' for a 17-year-old who essentially has been told by everyone who's come in contact with him since eighth grade that he's the second coming of Michael Jordan and has had rules created especially for him just so the maximum number of people could see him do what he does best.
Thousands of eyes, all on him, every Tuesday and Friday (and the occasional Saturday) for four months at a time, all expecting a show, all expecting big wins.
Not to mention all the nationwide travel time incurred in the off-season to make sure he was seen by even more influential people. People who could help pave his way to that elite NCAA Division I scholarship he so coveted.
North Carolina, as everyone knows, was the big winner in that process.
You try being a "normal" person and living a "normal" school life under those circumstances.
Keeping that all straight in your head would be a tall order for anyone, even for a grounded, soft-spoken, very tall teenager with two strong parents.
And Tokoto's parents have tried hard to keep it all straight. Are they perfect people? No. Are any of us? No.
But in this day and age of instant gratification, the kid is clearly not getting all that he wants when he wants. He still doesn't have a cell phone, he's still working on his driver's license, and he still has some childcare responsibilities with his much younger siblings from time-to-time.
Bloggers, talkers jump to conclusions
Now throw in all this noise over Siebert's resignation. The blogosphere and talk radio are rife with ugly half-truths and innuendo that Tokoto and the family all but drove the bus out of the school parking lot with Siebert on it last week.
As I said, not true, not true at all.
I don't pretend to know every detail about their relationship with the coaching staff, but from casual observation I noticed that the parents have kept their distance at games (with a large number of extended family members often in tow) and could often be seen talking to everyone and anyone quite amiably afterwards, win or lose.
They encourage Tokoto to be respectful and courteous, and he is. He didn't duck the press after losses and didn't throw his teammates under the bus publicly ("We" being his favorite pronoun as opposed to "I"). And if people remember the commitment ceremony at Dave & Busters, he spoke highly of his teachers, his guidance counselors, other members of the Falls teaching staff and his teammates (who were there in numbers).
Furthermore, he could have gone on a tournament trip to Knoxville, Tenn., with his AAU team, the Playground Warriors, this coming weekend but instead will be staying home taking his ACTs (his GPA is well north of 3.0).
So, if this is a kid and a family looking to quickly distance themselves from the district, they have a strange way of going about it.
Like I said, I don't pretend to know every detail, but Tokoto and his family have provided grand entertainment, an occasional diversion during hard economic times, and if not the letter-perfect ideal for bringing up an immensely talented individual through the often corrosive atmosphere of big-time recruiting, then a pretty darn good model to try and follow.
In light of that, the village and the area basketball community could make themselves look a whole lot better by just cutting the family a little slack and giving them the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
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