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The Daily Tar Heel

Tokoto ready to face old friends against Wisconsin

The junior forward chose UNC over Wisconsin in the recruiting process

LOS ANGELES — J.P. Tokoto takes hour-long showers — "the longest in America," according to his roommate. He sings to himself constantly, plays loud music and overloads on chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.

"He's the most unhealthy, physically-in-shape person I've ever met in my life," says roommate and fellow North Carolina forward Joel James.

"That's just J.P."

It's easy to forget — particularly on the eve of a UNC-Wisconsin Sweet 16 matchup — that off the court Tokoto is a normal 21-year-old with normal quirks and normal habits. But it's easy to remember that Tokoto is a Menomonee Falls, Wis., native who chose North Carolina over his state school, and now the teams are matching up against each other in the NCAA Tournament. That's what people focus on, and that's what filled the UNC locker room Wednesday in California as Tokoto fielded dozens of questions regarding his feelings on the matchup.

"It's fun. It's like back in the AAU days, the old high school days. It's great," he said. "I've been staying in touch with Sam (Dekker) a little bit and we were kind of looking forward to the matchup. Once we won the Arkansas game I got a text from him. Once they won their game he got a text back from me."

Tokto was close friends and teammates with Dekker, now a forward for Wisconsin, as the two grew up. His senior season of high school basketball came to a close when Wisconsin guard Zak Showalter's team knocked Tokoto's out in the WIAA State Tournament. Tokoto is familiar with many of the players, several of the coaches and the team that could have been his own had he not decided to come to UNC.

Now, with the stakes much higher and on the opposite team, he'll meet his Wisconsin friends one more time.

"A lot of high emotions are going to be brought to the game," he said. "I know they're going to come with it and I'm going to come with it, too."

Tokoto, a three-time first-team all-state selection in high school and the owner of 12 different records at Menomonee Falls High School, ultimately chose North Carolina for Coach Roy Williams. Tokoto admired how much effort Williams put into the recruiting process, which turned out to be the X-factor when it was all said and done.

"It was Coach that came down to it," he said. "Out of all the coaches, he was the only one that saw me numerous times."

Tokoto knows how valuable his experience at UNC has been to him and how elated he was when the Tar Heels earned a Sweet 16 berth for the first time since 2012.

"Living on cloud nine right now."

But he also knows many Wisconsin fans haven't forgiven him for leaving them — and the possibility of being a Badger — behind.

"You're gonna get haters," he said. "If I chose to go to Wisconsin, maybe UNC fans would have reacted the same way, you never know. But I didn't focus on that, I focused on where I was going and what I was trying to accomplish."

Now the accomplishment he's looking for is an opportunity to beat Wisconsin and play in the Elite 8. James is aware of the hype that surrounds his roommate and the drama of the impending matchup Thursday night in the Staples Center, but said Tokoto hasn't said much about it.

"I feel like J.P. thinks it's just a regular game," James said. "He’s going against one of his closest friends (in Dekker), he’s gonna go out there and try to play as hard as he can and get a 'W.'"

After that, it's back to the shower — and maybe song, too, if UNC wins.

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