Basketball

Tokashiki eager to put new skills on display

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Less than a week before the Japan women’s national team begins competing at the FIBA Asia Championship, Seattle Storm rookie Ramu Tokashiki returned home to join the squad.

Her WNBA club, meanwhile, has seven games remaining this season.

On the court one day after flying to Japan from the United States, Tokashiki looked a little tired and could be seen yawning during a practice session at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Monday. She said she was also “overwhelmed with the amount of plays” there were to memorize.

But the 24-year-old showed no signs of anxiety regarding her own performance on the floor, despite the limited time to prepare with the national team for the Asia Championship, which begins on Saturday in Wuhan, China.

“I think that I’ve always lived up to the expectations since when I was in high school,” Tokashiki, a two-time JBL MVP with the JX-Eneos Sunflowers, said. “I want to do the same this time as well. I have only a few days to get ready, but I’ll just do my best.”

Japan wrapped up its final training camp for the tournament on Tuesday. The team enters the Asia Championship, which serves as the region’s Olympic qualifier for the 2015 Rio de Janeiro Games, as the reigning champion.

Even before crossing the Pacific Ocean to play in the WNBA, Tokashiki had an innocent air about her, always with a smile on her face. Her cheerful disposition doesn’t appear to have changed a bit, even after competing against the world’s elite players in the U.S. circuit.

In fact, she’s embraced the tougher challenge of the WNBA, where she’s not dominating like she always did in Japan.

“Since I’ve been over there, I don’t get dejected any more,” Tokashiki said. “I’ve rather enjoyed occasions when I get beaten up (by other players). When I’m held by someone, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, I got stopped.’

“So when I match up with someone who’s really great, I get ecstatic even before the game. That’s new to me, a new emotion.”

By being exposed to better competition in the WNBA, Tokashiki has made big strides in developing her overall game.

For instance, because she’s not one of the tallest players anymore she’s needed to improve her versatility on the perimeter and developing her outside shooting skills.

“I’ve been used to the height, I’ve been used to the strength (of the players) in the (United) States,” the 192-cm forward said. “I can’t take advantage of my height in the States, but I don’t get behind anyone with my speed.”

It is, however, her defense that’s given Tokashiki more credibility with the Storm, who are 7-20 through last weekend.

“I couldn’t start on opening day, but I eventually did because of my defense,” said Tokashiki, who has started in 14 of the Storm’s 27 contests. “And when I started in more games later on, I was asked to guard key players of opposing teams.

“I can play defense without thinking too much. I’ve been told by my teammates that I can go help someone and can come back to my original man quickly because I have the athleticism. I have confidence in my defense.”

Tokashiki said her Storm teammates supported her and Japan’s bid for the Olympics, which it failed to qualify for in 2012 and ’08.

“They were like, ‘(players from other countries in the Asia Championship) don’t really know how much you’ve grown with the Storm, so show them what you can do,’ ” said Tokashiki, who’s averaging 8.3 points (third among the league’s rookies) and 3.0 rebounds. She’s also blocked 25 shots.

“As far as being a basketball player, the Olympics is what I definitely want to experience.”

Actually, Tokashiki believes Japan’s rivals, including China, have kept track of how she’s played in the WNBA. Even so, she’s got no worries.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll come and try to defend me,” said Tokashiki, the 2013 Asia Championship MVP.

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