Basketball

Tokashiki welcomes every opportunity to learn game, improve as all-around player

WNBA experiences help the veteran forward grow, reap benefits of top-level competition

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Returning to her home nation with an innocent smile, Ramu Tokashiki reflected on what was the biggest challenge of her three-year stint in America.

The 2017 WNBA season was not a joyride.

But she maintained a positive demeanor on Tuesday.

Tokashiki appeared in 33 games for the Seattle Storm, missing just one and starting one, this past season. But she notched career-low numbers in most statistical categories.

The Storm have not had a winning record since 2011, when it went 21-13. As a result, the team has been able to select better players in the draft, such as superstar forward Breanna Stewart. At the same time, it’s proven to be a tougher challenge for Tokashiki competing for minutes.

This past season, Tokashiki averaged 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and 12.5 minutes per game for the Storm, who finished fifth in the Western Conference with a 15-19 record. (Earlier this month, the Phoenix Mercury eliminated Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.)

Nevertheless, she does not put her head down. She said that she would receive more court time in Japan or while with the national team.

But every minute in the WNBA is a chance to learn something.

“You can experience the physical contact and watch individual skills (of other players) up close from the bench that you don’t get to feel by just seeing from outside,” said Tokashiki upon her arrival at Narita airport.

“So I believe that I gained a lot over there,” added Tokashiki, who averaged 20.6 minutes and 8.2 points with the Storm in 2015, her first WNBA season.

Tokashiki said that former head coach Jenny Boucek, who was replaced by Gary Kloppenburg in August, asked her to play a little differently this past season.

Previously, she was required to play more on the perimeter, but Boucek ordered her to drive inside more, capitalizing on her speed and height. This helped create open space for her teammates.

But despite all the changes she needed to adjust to, Tokashiki didn’t alter her positive attitude. Instead, she thinks every opportunity presents a lesson to help her become a better player.

“People may think that I have not played much in games and my numbers went down,” said Tokashiki, a 193-cm player. “But I take it as a part of the learning process for me.”

In fact, her recent role for the Storm has made her a more mature player.

“In Japan, I’m a scorer,” said Tokashiki, who has been with the JX-Eneos Sunflowers of the Women’s Japan Basketball League for seven years. “But in Seattle, I pass the ball to other teammates that can score to contribute to the team. I was especially aware of it late in the season.

“If I get guarded by multiple players, then I dish the ball out to my teammates. There’s options like that for me now.”

Tokashiki, a four-time WJBL MVP, is a restless player. Since signing with the Storm, she’s competed in Japan from the fall to the spring, and then changed her jersey to play for the Storm during the summer.

She was exempted from the national team for this summer’s FIBA Women’s Asia Cup, which the Akatsuki Five won for the third consecutive time. But before that, she competed for the national team at the 2015 Asia Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Tokashiki will reunite with Sunflowers teammates for the upcoming 2017-18 season, when the powerhouse club will look to extend its league championship streak to 10.

“I’m still 26 years old,” Tokashiki said with a laugh. “I think that I have nothing but room to grow.”

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in sight, Tokashiki said she would deliberately think about what kind of future circumstances she would want to put herself into as a player.

“It’ll be depending on how I’ll feel physically and mentally,” said Tokashiki, who was born in Tokyo and raised in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture. “And I have to think where I should play to give me the biggest chance to grow. Whether I should increase time with the national team or I should continue to play in America, I want to think about it.”

The 2017-18 WJBL season tips off on Oct. 7 when the Sunflowers face the Yamanashi Queenbees in Kofu.