By Brian Paglia
Justin Tuoyo enjoyed his role last season. He was a 6-foot-8 sophomore without a sophisticated offensive game, so his order from Lovejoy coach Rick Francis was to make the area near the basket "his world," and to reject or alter any shots that entered.
Tuoyo was good at his role. He blocked 12 shots in one game during a holiday tournament. He blocked seven shots in a region game against Pebblebrook. He gave Lovejoy a defensive presence that helped the Wildcats snap a five-year absence from the state tournament.
But now Lovejoy needs more from Tuoyo.
The Wildcats must find a way to replace the scoring void left by the graduation of Cameron Solomon, who averaged 25 points per game on his way to being named Clayton County player of the year by the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald, and Tuoyo said he plans to be part of the answer.
"I'm going to play defense, rebound and everything," Tuoyo said, "but coach came to me and said, 'We need more scoring from you.' So during this offseason I've been trying to get better. I worked on my post moves. I've been in the weight room and got stronger. Anything I can do to help this team out."
Tuoyo's off to a good start.
In the Wildcats' season-opening 61-49 victory over Luella on Tuesday, Tuoyo was unstoppable. He had a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks, the kind of all-around performance Francis expects from Tuoyo this season.
"We've seen a lot of growth in his game," said Francis, who's in his seventh season at Lovejoy. "He's put the time in, and we can see the benefits from all that on-court experience."
Tuoyo is among an impressive class of juniors in the Southern Crescent, which includes two top-150 prospects, according to Rivals.com, in North Clayton's Marcus Hunt and Union Grove's Charles Mann.
But Tuoyo is a fast-rising star after a productive summer playing AAU basketball with the Southern Kings. One of his goals was to accelerate his development on offense. He went from averaging eight points per game to nearly 13 a game by summer's end.
That got the attention of colleges. Tuoyo already has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, South Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Now he wants to make a name for himself on the high school level.
"I'm trying to let everybody know how serious I am," Tuoyo said. "Last year I had a good year and everything, but now I'm really trying to make a name for myself in Georgia. And not just me, but Lovejoy, too."