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Falls' Tokoto auditions before the elite of NCAA coaches

April 21, 2010

It was different Tuesday night at the Menomonee Falls gym for nationwide sophomore basketball recruiting gem J.P. Tokoto.

Yes, all winter, coaches like Roy Williams of North Carolina, Bo Ryan of Wisconsin, Bill Self of Kansas and others had come to the carnivals that were the Indians' home games to observe the talented Tokoto do his thing in a relaxed context, as one-sided contests were generally the rule in Falls' undefeated run through the Greater Metro Conference.

It was all just part of the fun, not any real serious business.

But as noted, Tuesday was different, and not just because Tokoto's mom Laurence Trimble had brought a large bucket of her famous cookies for the coaches to nosh on.

At the games this winter, the coaches were generally there by themselves with just an assistant or two. It was a rare occurrence, as when Ryan and Williams were seated side-by-side at one game, when there was more than one such high-level person there to scrutinize, deciding whether to give this still growing 6-6 talent-beyond-measure a free education and a possible ticket to the NBA.

But all that is changing.

Last Sunday night, when Tokoto was at home icing down a sore hip from a fall he took at an AAU game in Arkansas just the day before, his father Trevor Trimble announced that a large cadre of coaches would be there at an open gym Tuesday night.

It caused even this highly confident athlete to take a deep breath.

"I just said 'What!?'," Tokoto noted after the successful exhibition. "Man, I knew I had to get ready in a hurry."

Because Tuesday was going to be different, much more business than fun. Early in the evening, you had Bruce Weber of NIT quarterfinalist Illinois sharing jokes with his Big 10 buddy and now two-time NCAA Final Four qualifier Tom Izzo of Michigan State.

A short time later, Marquette's Buzz Williams slid over along the far wall of the Falls gym, keeping himself separate from the others.

And then there was a large noise, as even more heavy artillery made itself noticed, when Roy Williams (who had nearly made himself a resident of the village with all his visits this winter) arrived in concert with John Calipari of Kentucky.

Needless to say, that corner of the gym became the object of fascination in a hurry.

Concurrently, it got quieter and more serious on the court. Playing with teammates like John Cording, Conor Cassidy, Max Poeske, C.J. Malone, Jalen Ramey and Jonathan Phillips, Tokoto was not quite his dominant self, especially defensively. He tried to put on a good show and there were moments, but it was not quite with the same exuberance as on other evenings.

The confluence of coaches came about through the aid of Tokoto's AAU coach Richie Davis and because of the fact that the coaches' April period for contact with potential recruits was to end on Wednesday. WisSports.net Editor Mark Miller fueled interest by annoucing the heady open gym in his Monday blogpost.

It became quickly known that there was going to be more of a point to this little adventure than just the usual throwdowns and showboating blocks.

That came early in the evening, as the floor was cleared and it was time for the audition.

Tokoto was joined on the floor by his father and his trainer, Thad McGrew. He did two-handed dribbling drills up and down the court and then went down to the far end of the gym, away from the coaches, who by that time were putting on a miniature convention, replete with discussions about the NCAA tournament's potential expansion to 96 teams and other topics.

Some serious, some not.

It was Roy Williams who dove into Laurence Trimble's cookies first, laughing when he said "Y'all were waiting for me to go first, weren't you?"

While they were chatting, McGrew and Trimble were working the youngster hard. First, on a series of perimeter shooting drills around the three-point arc, then on defensive positioning and finally on free throws. It wasn't just an act, said Trimble, but an extension of workouts Tokoto goes through on a regular basis to show that he doesn't take the idea of a high-level scholarship offer to a major school as a given.

"He's continuing to do a great job on focusing on trying to improve," Trevor Trimble said. "He wants both his summer (AAU) and winter (Falls) teams to do well, and he wants to contribute and support them as much as possible knowing that it'll all work out well in the end if he does his part."

"...We're really proud of him. He's the one now saying 'Are we going to the gym?' It's so good to see that kind of maturity."

That maturity includes taking homework along with him on the weekend roadtrips, which since the end of the high school season, has included a trip to Virginia as well as the more recent one to Little Rock, Arkansas.

"School has actually become a little easier recently," he said. "I've been able to focus more."

There's been no time for driver's ed lessons for the 16-year old and there is still no cell phone.

"He doesn't even bring it up in conversation," said Trevor Trimble. "It just helps keep the distractions away. He is a teenager though and we do reward him (for good behavior) in other ways."

Indian coach Ben Siebert saw nothing but an upside to this nerve-wracking event, as there have been unexpected benefits coming from all the attention paid to Tokoto. Cording and Cassidy will attend school and play at MSOE next winter. They've already been attending open gyms there.

"Hey, this beats the usual crowd," quipped the point guard Cording. "I'll take it anytime." 

Further, Phillips, the rangy 6-6 center/forward, has got a preferred walk-on opportunity at Wisconsin and in a proud piece of news that still hasn't gotten old, it was recently announced that Poeske has been named Falls' second WIAA Scholar/Athlete in three years.

"This is all great," said Siebert, "It's great for J.P. and it's great for the program. It's a terrific chance for the other kids to show off their skills in front of a great audience like this. ...I'm just so happy for all of them. Jonathan (Phillips) really earned his opportunity and put himself in position for a good chance while Conor and John have a chance to play in a fun system (similar to the fast-breaking offense of Falls)."

"And as far as Max is concerned, I can't say enough about him. No one really understands how difficult an honor that is to earn (the WIAA Scholar/Athlete). You have to work so hard for that." Calipari was seen signing Poeske's t-shirt after the open gym was over.

And Tokoto's happy for them too. This will be a quiet weekend for him and the family. Just practice and no roadtrips, which will probably be good for the hip. There will be discussions over the rest of the school year and the summer and a narrowing of college choices sometime in the fall. Maybe an announcement soon after that.

The more immediate future held a better reward for him, however.

"I know some of those cookies will be waiting for me when I get home," he laughed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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