The NCAA Final Four in New Orleans this weekend will have a bit of local flavor.
And not because Wisconsin, Marquette or UW-Milwaukee are taking part in the final piece of hoops-mania for the college basketball season.
It's because high school all-state players J.P. Tokoto of Menomonee Falls and Zak Showalter of Germantown will compete in the American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk and 3-Point Shooting Championships scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at the Alario Center in New Orleans. The event will be televised on CBS (Channel 58) at 3:30 p.m. (CST) Sunday.
"It's a great honor," Tokoto said. "It's a great opportunity for me to put my high school on the map and represent the state of Wisconsin the best I can."
Tokoto, a 6-6 high-flying forward, who will attend the University of North Carolina on scholarship next season, is a human highlight reel at moments and his tremendous leaping ability is tailor-made for the dunk contest.
In a game this season against Brookfield East, he jumped high from the foul line, snared teammate C.J. Malone's missed dunk out of mid-air and slammed it home one-handed in an event that had the Falls gym rumbling to its very foundations.
Later in the season, Tokoto took a three-quarter court pass with less than three seconds remaining in regulation against Homestead, stepped back behind the three-point arc, rose high amid three defenders and calmly swished a three-pointer to tie the game at the buzzer.
He was both a Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 1 and Associated Press first-team all-state honoree.
Showalter, the leader of the WIAA Division 1 state champion Warhawks, is a 6-2 guard who will be a preferred walk-on at Wisconsin. He drained 57 three-pointers this season in earning both AP and WBCA first-team all-state honors, frequently isolating defenders in 1-4 sets and just calmly draining a shot with a hand in his face.
He too has tremendous athleticism and dunks quite frequently.
In a game against Whitefish Bay, the 2011 Division 2 state champions, he had at least five throw-downs. The Warhawks memorably opened their state semifinal victory over Madison Memorial on March 16 with center Luke Fischer winning the tip, point guard Josh Mongan taking the pass and then Showalter cuffing Mongan's subsequent lob to the basket for a spectacular one-hand tomahawk dunk just five seconds into the game.
"It would be fun to have Zak in the dunk contest, but with J.P. in there, pretty much all bets are off," laughed Germantown coach and Zak's dad, Steve Showalter.
Tokoto said he's looking forward to matching up with Georgia High School All-American Shaquille Johnson in the dunk contest.
"Shaq and I are friends," he said, "and already had a mini-dunk contest at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy. It will be like a Round 2. We'll both have fresh legs so it will be interesting to see."