Star forward Ramu Tokashiki has signed a multiyear contract with the Seattle Storm, the WNBA club announced on Friday.
Although the length of the contract was undisclosed, Tokashiki’s return to the team shows that she’s an important piece of the puzzle for the rebuilding franchise. The Storm went 10-24 last season and posted a 12-22 mark in 2014.
“Taku (Tokashiki) is a key building block for our future,” Seattle head coach Jenny Boucek, who is entering her second season at the helm, said in a statement.
“Her combination of passion, athleticism, fearlessness and instinct for the game makes her a dynamic playmaker on both ends of the floor.
“The sky is the limit for Taku and we are extremely excited about her commitment to the Storm.”
Tokashiki, 24, averaged 8.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, in 30 games (16 starts) last year for the Storm. She was named to the WNBA all-rookie team along with teammate Jewell Loyd.
Tokashiki appears comfortable with the Storm’s playing style. Seattle often uses one big inside and four others outside.
“That’s the same as JX,” Tokashiki said, comparing the Storm with her WJBL club JX-Eneos, where she’s played since the 2010-11 season, after the Sunflowers captured their third straight championship in the single-elimination All-Japan Championship last month. “So it fits me.”
The Storm open their 2016 campaign on May 15.
Meanwhile, the Sunflowers, led by the two-time WJBL MVP Tokashiki, who averaged 18.9 points (third in the WJBL), 62.9 field-goal percentage (first), 8.5 rebounds (fourth) and 2.4 blocks (first) per game in the 2015-16 regular season, look poised to contend for another title in a few weeks.
The five-time defending champion Sunflowers finished the regular season with a league-best 20-4 record and will face the Aisin AW Wings in the playoff quarterfinals, starting on Feb. 20 in Kagoshima.
The best-of-five JBL Finals is scheduled to tip off March 10.
For her opponents, Tokashiki, a two-time FIBA Asia Championship MVP, has presented an even bigger problem since expanding her game in the WNBA. Because she has no height advantage in the United States, Tokashiki worked to further develop her skills, particularly outside the post, in order to be successful against players in that league.
“Her one-on-one stuff from outside (has improved),” JX-Eneos assistant Tom Hovasse, who trained Tokashiki, said of the 191-cm player’s development after the All-Japan win. “(This is) because she’s always been an inside player until last season in the WNBA.
“Now we have her playing outside quite a bit as well. She recognizes when to drive and when to shoot.”
He added: “She’ll always be a threat from the outside.”
Hovasse said that Tokashiki’s confidence and technical development have grown because of the time she’s spent in the WNBA.
“Even if something isn’t working, if her jump shots are not working, whatever, she now can drive and do different things, not just one thing,” said Hovasse, a former Atlanta Hawks player. “That comes with experience, comes with her developing in games and confidence.”
Indeed, Tokashiki will face additional challenges in the coming months, especially because of the physical demands of an Olympic year.
For starters, JX-Eneos is favored to advance to the WJBL Finals, and after that Tokashiki is expected to participate in training camps for both the Storm and the Japan women’s national team, which has already earned a spot in this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games in August.
At the All-Japan Championship, Tokashiki confessed that she’d gotten tired quicker than before.
“So I’m really aware of caring (for) my body, conditioning and sleeping well,” she said.