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J.P. Tokoto: The Basketball Player That Almost Never Was

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J.P. Tokoto could easily be on a different career path than he is today.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

When J.P. Tokoto was selected by the 76ers with the 58th overall pick, half the cheers in the Barclays Center were coming from his family. The former UNC guard was in the stands for the 2015 NBA draft, and walked up to the podium to meet deputy commissioner Mark Tatum once he heard his name called.

But Thursday's festivities, a culmination of several years of hard work, may have never come to fruition for the 21-year-old if he opted to play another sport.

Tokoto grew up a soccer player, large in part because of the influence of his grandfather, the original Jean-Pierre Tokoto. Tokoto Sr. played for Cameroon's national team during the 1982 FIFA World Cup, and spent one year playing with the Philadelphia Fever (an indoor team) at the end of his professional career.

"My grandfather is my first coach ever," he said. "He was my soccer coach from the age I was 4 until 15."

In 6th grade, Tokoto was forced to decide which sport he'd like to pursue full time: basketball or soccer.

"I chose basketball because my friend in the neighborhood was playing and I joined his AAU team and got comfortable there," he said. "So I ended up giving up soccer because basketball. I started traveling a lot more, and it got more competitive. And it worked out, so I’m happy with my decision."

While Tokoto Sr. may not have been initially pleased with his J.P.'s decision to leave soccer behind, but eventually got over it once he realized how good a basketball player his grandson was.

"At first he wasn't too happy about it...but he saw a special talent in me on the court, he saw me play. It took him a little bit of time but he was okay with me changing sports."

Tokoto Sr. was one of many family members at the draft, and J.P. said his grandfather "gave me the biggest hug out of anybody".

In regards to his new home in the NBA, Tokoto realizes Philadelphia presents him with an opportunity to do something great.

"The 76ers are in a rebuilding process and I feel like I can come in and working on my game as well adding different things to the team," Tokoto said. "I bring defense, I can play off ball, I can play on ball defense, I get out on the floor and use my athletic ability to get in the passing lanes."

One area the Wisconsin native desperately needs to improve is his shooting. His field goal percentage of 42.8% was the lowest of his collegiate career, and he attempted just 32  three-pointers in 2014-15. Tokoto spent a lot of time working on fixing his shot form while he worked out at IMG Academy in Florida before the draft.

"I’ve been more comfortable out on the perimeter, knocking down jump shots," he said. "I’ve been working on it tremendously and I’m gonna continue too."

With an improving shot and strong defensive instincts, Tokoto could be a tremendous sleeper pick, and make pursuing basketball over other sporting ventures look like a no-brainer.