Japan women’s national basketball team assistant coach Tom Hovasse recalled that Ramu Tokashiki “was just a kid” when she made her WJBL debut right out of high school.
But Tokashiki kept growing as a player, day in and day out, and has now reached the elite level in the women’s game on the global stage, the WNBA. And for all these years, Hovasse, who also serves as an assistant for the WJBL’s JX-Eneos Sunflowers, has watched Tokashiki and pushed her to bring out the best in her.
“That’s been our goal,” Hovasse said, when asked if the WNBA was Tokashiki’s objective since she joined the Sunflowers in 2010. “It hasn’t been easy. She came in as an 18-year-old kid. Her practice routine wasn’t good.”
But Hovasse, 48, insists Tokashiki, who signed with the Seattle Storm this season, has matured a lot and is a different player today.
“I have no question about her work ethic. I know she’s mentally strong,” Hovasse said. “I’m just happy to see what she’s doing.”
Before she arrived in Seattle for the Storm’s preseason preparations in May, the 24-year-old Tokashiki went to San Diego, where Hovasse maintains a residence. During their time in the Southern California city, Hovasse trained Tokashiki, preparing her for a new, better basketball environment.
Hovasse, a former scoring champion for Toyota in the JBL, said he’s been impressed by how the two-time WJBL MVP has adjusted to her new league and performed so far. He added that although Tokashiki is playing the same position, power forward, as she did in Japan, she’s had to get accustomed to a different role for the Storm.
“(The Storm) always want her on the outside,” Hovasse said of Tokashiki, who played in each of Seattle’s first 15 games (one start), averaging 7.2 points, for the Western Conference team. “They don’t want her to drive, they don’t want her to post up.”
Tokashiki was one of the tallest players in the WJBL. She was asked to take care of the inside more, including offensive rebounding, but she has different duties for Seattle.
“It’s just totally opposite of what we did at JX,” Hovasse said. “So it took some time. She’s still adjusting to it. Sometimes she doesn’t like certain things, but that’s the way the team operates.”
Hovasse hasn’t been too worried about Tokashiki’s transition to the WNBA because of her talent and competitiveness.
“I told the Seattle coaches before she got there, ‘You’re going to be surprised by her athleticism, more importantly, by her competitiveness,’ ” said Hovasse, a former forward who played in a pair of games for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks during the 1994-95 season. “When she’s in the game, she just doesn’t want to lose. And they told me the same thing: ‘Oh my god, she’s so good.’ She’s a lot better than what they thought she was.”
Hovasse believes in Tokashiki’s ability and thinks it could blossom in the WNBA.
“I think she’s going to be a superstar,” he said. “She’s going to be a starter, and I think she’s going to do that as permanently, hopefully this year. And then I want her to be a superstar, one of the top. I think she can be.”
The Storm have struggled, though, posting a 3-12 record entering Wednesday’s game against the visiting Los Angeles Sparks.
Led by Tokashiki, Hovasse thinks that the Japan women’s national team has a chance to achieve something special at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics: win a medal.
“I really think that this team has a ton of potential,” Hovasse said. “I think we could win a medal in Tokyo. It’s a very lofty goal, but I think we can do it.”
If Japan’s women achieve what Hovasse thinks they can do in five years on home soil, he added that it will boost the popularity of the game here.
“Could you imagine what the deal is for women’s basketball here?” he asked. “(It will) just take it off the charts. So that’s kind of my vision right now.”
But of course, Hovasse doesn’t take next year’s Rio Olympics lightly. Instead, he thinks the Tomohide Utsumi-led team better seize a berth in the 2016 Summer Games and use it as a stepping stone for the potential feat in 2020.
“It’ll be tough if we don’t make it to Rio next year,” he said. “So I really want to express some urgency with the girls and really I want them to get their heads right and set the goals to know this is an important thing.”
Hayabusa Japan will compete for the FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan, China, between Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. The tournament champions will be granted an Olympic berth in Brazil. The second- and third-place finishers will advance to global qualifying next year.