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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: JP Tokoto’s decision to leave doesn’t mean he’s not one of us

Bradley Saacks is the University Editor. He is a junior journalism major from Cary.

Bradley Saacks is the University Editor. He is a junior journalism major from Cary.

The world of sports and the emotions it brings to the surface are fascinating.

News breaks of a college player deciding he wants to be justly compensated for his talents, and immediately there are hundreds of adults attacking the decision-making abilities of a kid who was born after the critics graduated from college.

So while we all love to pick on J.P. Tokoto and his choice to enter the NBA draft, we need to appreciate what we had and acknowledge why he made the decision.

For me, J.P. was the most fun player to watch on UNC for the past three years.

I feel the players who arrived at UNC at the same time as the class of 2016 have grown up with us. We saw Marcus Paige become one of the best players in the NCAA and Brice Johnson learn to dominate. We’ve learned to love the celebrations of the incomparable Joel James.

But it was J.P. who most closely resembled us.

Much like many of us, he was unsure of his abilities his first year before blossoming — with the natural growing pains that we have all dealt with — as he figured out his role in a constantly changing puzzle.

We celebrated every incredible dunk and bemoaned every mental lapse the same way we high-five ourselves when we crush a test and self-loathe when we leave a paper until the last minute.

He was the most breathtaking college athlete I have ever seen play in person, so of course, he was frustrating — whenever us mortals see someone as physically gifted as Tokoto make dumb decisions, we like to pretend we wouldn’t have done the same damn thing.

But for all the dumb turnovers, unnecessary stepbacks and overhead passes fired at teammates’ ankles, J.P. was mesmerizing. He evolved from a raw athlete from Middle-of-Nowhere, Wis., to an integral part of a Sweet Sixteen team.

Seeing the Yahoo Sports story that quoted him saying he didn’t feel challenged anymore at UNC was tough. We like to believe we know exactly what is best for these athletes we have never met. But this isn’t a reason to hate J.P.

Do I wish he were coming back? Of course.

But he didn’t make this choice for the fans or his professors or even his family. He made this choice for himself — a choice every single one of us would have made in a heartbeat as well.

Just realize this decision doesn’t erase the three years we’ve spent growing with him.

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