Basketball

Ramu Tokashiki striving for national team return

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Ramu Tokashiki is thrilled to be back on the court. But the star player knows a spot on the national team is no guarantee.

Tokashiki has not competed for Japan’s women’s national team since the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics due to nagging injuries, mostly in her ankles. But she has returned to the floor full of energy.

The 28-year-old power forward reunited with the national squad this month for its ongoing fifth and sixth training camps ahead of September’s FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Bangalore, India.

While she said she would like to play at the biennial tournament, Tokashiki was careful in choosing her words when discussing her chances, cognizant of how much the team’s situation has changed during her two-plus-year absence.

Japan’s playing style is very different from what it was at the previous Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Now, head coach Tom Hovasse asks every player on his team to be able to shoot 3 pointers and Japan plays with a more up-tempo pace with Hovasse imploring his team to play ferocious defense.

Tokashiki, the tallest player in the training camp squad at 193 cm, won’t get an exception if she wants to be part of the Akatsuki Five.

“The style of this team’s game has changed, and centers are not what they used to be. Even centers have to be able to shoot 3 pointers now,” Tokashiki said at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Tuesday. “If I can’t do it, I won’t remain on this team — That’s how I think even now.”

The six-time Women’s Japan Basketball League MVP, for the Jx-Eneos Sunflowers, continued: “Whatever great results I’ve come up with in the (WJBL), if I don’t fit into the playing style of the national team, I won’t make the squad.”

Tokashiki played for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm for three seasons starting in 2015 and refined her outside skills, including her jump shooting. But she said that she has worked on 3s since last year “to survive” the battles on the national team, which Hovasse insists will help Japan aim for a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think she’s shooting pretty naturally and cleanly,” Hovasse said of Tokashiki’s 3-point shooting. “She might not have found her comfort zone as to her shooting selections in this offensive system yet. But I’m looking forward to seeing how she’ll do because she will have a chance (to score) both inside and outside in it.”

While she admitted Japan has made progress since Rio, Tokashiki wants to remain a difference maker for the team going forward.

“Hopefully, people who watch will say, ‘the team’s different with Tokashiki,'” said Tokashiki, who believes she can contribute with her rebounding and basketball IQ.

Despite all of her colorful accolades and collection of championships she’s won, including some of the Sunflowers’ 11 straight WJBL titles, Tokashiki thinks she needs to earn a spot on the national squad.

But on Tuesday she did not show despair. Instead, she described the fun she had working with her teammates.

“It’s been a while for me to feel this way,” Tokashiki said with a smile. “You get to grow as a player when you feel you love the game and it’s fun to play it. Maybe I’ll develop even further from here — I know it’ll be up to me, but there’s a part of me that thinks that way a little bit.”

Tokashiki’s ambitions extend beyond the national team and Olympics. She hopes to get back to the WNBA, from which she withdrew to concentrate on her country’s national team.

“I want to go again if I’ll be given a chance,” the Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, native said. “I know it’s a great place to compete in and I still want to play there.”

Japan, the three-time reigning Women’s Asia Cup champion, will take on Taiwan in a Tokyo 2020 test event at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 24 and 25.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5