Tokoto's traveling show rolls on its merry way

Dec. 21, 2009

There was a carnival going on at Menomonee Falls High School last Saturday night with a bit of basketball thrown in for good measure.

There was the halftime show that included little kids and Indian all-state football kicker Kyle French throwing mini-basketballs into a make-shift miniature basket poised on the head of a fellow student for free dinners at area restaurants. There was also a performance by the Indian dance and cheerleading crew.

Then there was the highly entertaining 88-67 win that Falls posted over their border rivals from Germantown before an overflow crowd that hugged the walls of the old Falls gym.

At the center of it all was the J.P. Tokoto show, which is an ongoing feature hopefully set to run for another two successful years before the 6-6 sophomore forward takes his moon-vaulting jumping ability and his engaging smile to Wisconsin, Marquette, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas or some other institution of higher learning that he and his family deem suitable.

And he did not disappoint Saturday night, with his 29-point, 20-rebound effort against archrival Germantown that had one very interested spectator sitting in the corner of the Falls gym.

It wasn't the first time that Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan, who just recently passed 200 wins at Wisconsin, had seen Tokoto, but you couldn't tell that from the reception he got. Public address announcer Jeff Thompson caught wind of him in the third quarter, bringing him to everyone's attention.

And after Tokoto's one-hand jam late in the fourth quarter pulled the curtain on his show for the evening, was when he, Ryan, and everyone else really got to work.

Tokoto, whose jersey was a bit bloodied in the well-played but physical affair, slapped five with fans across the Falls bench as they filed out. If he got tired of doing that, it didn't show.

Before the game, Falls officials had taken pains to move the Germantown student section from behind the Indian bench to the other side of the visiting stands in order to keep things civil in this emotionally charged rivalry.

And civility ruled the day afterward. Tokoto's mother gave Ryan a big hug to say hello and before the veteran coach got a chance to talk to the star himself, he gratefully acknowledged admirers, signed autographs and posed for photographs.

He also made time for one grateful protégé as Warhawk coach Steve Showalter made his way over to shake hands with his old mentor. It had been a long time since Ryan and Showalter made beautiful string music together at UW-Platteville. Ryan was just starting to make life miserable for all the other teams in the WIAC and Showalter was among his first stars.

So close is the connection between the two that for a moment Showalter thought he was back in school.

"I hear that voice," Showalter said, "and it's like we were back at practice. 'Listen and look at me!' I mean, it's only been 21 years (laughs), but I hear him and I automatically stop, look and listen."

Showalter acknowledged that he could have used a bit of the old coach's help in the loss his young (four sophomore starters) squad absorbed at the hands of the high-flying Indians.

"He's a good man," Ryan said afterwards of Showalter. "He's done a great job there."

And so has the young man at the center of all this activity. Long after people finally began clearing out, the well-grounded Tokoto could be seen talking and smiling with Ryan. Because of NCAA regulations, they can't engage in anything more than pleasantries at this point, but Tokoto could be seen rapt with attention, absorbing everything Ryan said.

The young man still doesn't have a cell phone, but he laughs when he admits that he uses his mom's a lot these days.

Wisconsin, like many other schools, already has a standing scholarship offer on the table for Tokoto, who is ranked one of the best sophomores in the nation.

Others are sure to follow suit, as the carnival rolls on to another town, for another round of basketball and adventure.

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