After practice on Tuesday, Storm head coach Jenny Boucek spent some time working with Ramu Tokashiki on her jump shot. They practiced holding the follow through and curling off screens to catch and shoot at the elbow. Tokashiki, who made the WNBA’s All-Rookie team last year, smiled and pointed at Crystal Langhorne after swishing the final shot of a drill.
Standing right next to Tokashiki during the extra session was her translator, Kei Morita. Her English skills are still a work in progress, so another Japanese speaker is with Tokashiki every step of the way during practices and games. It’s only a minor aspect of the experience, one that hasn’t hindered her ability to become part of the Storm family.
“She’s a great fit here,” Boucek said. “The team and coaching staff have a great deal of respect for her.”
When she signed with Seattle ahead of the 2015 season, Tokashiki became just the third Japanese player to make a WNBA roster. She had dominated her own nation’s league for years, but those who previously came to the WNBA from Japan had struggled to adapt. Not Tokashiki. The 6-3 forward became a starter in the Storm’s frontcourt and eventually signed a multiyear deal to stay with the franchise.
Heading into her second season, which begins Sunday at Los Angeles, Tokashiki is once again relishing the opportunity to play in the Emerald City.
“It’s a really great place to be,” she said through her translator. “There are a lot of Japanese people here, and the fans are great. They’re very passionate, and I really like that. I’m very excited and looking forward to this season.”
The presence of Japanese culture is one of the main reasons she feels comfortable in Seattle, Tokashiki added. She was able to explore much of the city last year, including several trips to local museums and Mariners games. On any given morning, she says, you’re likely to spot her at a Starbucks drinking her favorite coffee.
At first, Tokashiki’s transition to the WNBA was far from seamless. She shot just 27.6 percent from the field in her first seven games as a rookie, averaging four points in almost 17 minutes per contest. In one of those games, she finished 1-for-10 as the Storm lost to Minnesota. But then Boucek inserted her into the starting lineup, and Tokashiki responded by averaging 15.7 points in the next three games.
In all, Tokashiki made 16 starts and posted averages of 8.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and nearly one block per contest in 2015. Her 6.3 plus-minus rating was the best on the team among those who played significant minutes.
During another dominant campaign in Japan this offseason, Tokashiki continued to polish her game in hopes of helping her American team get back to the playoffs.
“I worked really hard with my speed and my one-on-one ability,” she said. “Maybe I’m not the strongest on the team, but I worked hard to get stronger in the offseason. The first thing is defense. That’s something that I think [Boucek] really sees and values in me. So that’s something that I want to improve even more and contribute to my team.”
The WJBL in Japan isn’t nearly as competitive as the WNBA, but Tokashiki has compiled an impressive résumé of three MVPs and six championships in her native country. She has led the WJBL in scoring two straight years, and last season Tokashiki also posted a league-best 2.1 blocks per game. The 24-year-old is all but guaranteed to play in the Olympics this summer after guiding Japan to a title at the FIBA Asia Championship, where she earned MVP honors.
Even so, Boucek isn’t sure how often Tokashiki will be the standout performer on her WNBA team this year. The Storm added No. 1 draft pick Breanna Stewart, a very similar player who started at forward in the first preseason game. Langhorne and Abby Bishop will also command heavy minutes at the position.
No matter what role she plays right away, the Storm views Tokashiki as a key piece to its puzzle in 2016 and beyond.
“She’s a mega, mega star over there, and she comes over here and she’s just playing a role. And she’s able to assimilate,” Boucek said. “Some of these things haven’t taken shape yet, but her attitude is whatever the team needs. That’s really impressive, given her level of stardom where she comes from.”