SEATTLE — There are always players whose exploits go unnoticed in a league as deep as the WNBA. In this series, we take a look at the players who provide production, leadership and intangibles that put their teams in position to win night in and night out. Our latest “Under The Radar” profile is on Ramu Tokashiki of the Seattle Storm.
Every season in training camps across the WNBA there are players who coaches and general managers bring in from across the globe to take a look at and see if they might have found a diamond in the rough that could help their team. In most cases these players are former NCAA standouts or European pros who have a track record of success in leagues that WNBA executives are familiar with.
At the 2015 Seattle Storm training camp, however, new head coach Jenny Boucek and team president Alisha Valavanis took a gamble on a player from a relatively unknown league in a country that was not known for regularly producing WNBA talent. The player in question was then-23-year-old Ramu Tokashiki.
Tokashiki (pronounced Toe-Kosh-Key) is a superstar in her native Japan.
“I always liked being active,” Tokashiki said of what first drew her to the game. “I started playing when I was 12 and got serious about the sport in high school.”
Just seven years after first picking up a basketball for the first time, the 19-year-old turned pro in Japan’s most elite league. In her rookie campaign she led the JX-Eneos Sunflowers to a league championship while also being named Rookie of the Year, First-Team All-League and MVP.
Standing 6’3” with a wingspan that makes her seem taller and a vertical leap that allows her to throw down two-handed dunks with ease, Tokashiki dominated the top league in Japan. By the time the Storm invited her to training camp in 2015 she had led the Sunflowers to five straight championships and had been named First-Team All-League four times, won two league MVPs, two finals MVPs and also been named the MVP of FIBA Asia twice. But the WNBA is a level above anything that Japan has to offer.
“It is a tough league,” Tokashiki said of the challenge of the WNBA. “The biggest difference is the skill of each and every player, their physical toughness and the height.”
Despite the increased level of competition, Tokashiki not only earned a roster spot with the Storm, but became an incredibly important piece of the rotation. Of the 30 games she played she started 16 and finished her first season averaging eight points, three rebounds and a block in just 21 minutes per game, earning her All-Rookie honors.
In 2016 she has seen her role change. The addition of Breanna Stewart to the Storm led to Boucek and the rest of the coaching staff using the first half of the season to integrate their new star and build team chemistry. The result was a reduced role for Tokashiki before the Olympic break.
Upon returning from a highly successful Olympics in which she averaged over 17 points per game and led Japan to an impressive showing, including a game against Team USA in which Japan was within four all the way into the third quarter, Tokashiki saw her role on the Storm return to where it had been in her rookie campaign. Despite having played limited minutes up to that point, she was ready to deliver what her team needed. By averaging seven points and four rebounds in 16 minutes per game, she helped the Storm win four straight contests to clinch their first playoff birth in two years.
An inspiration and role model to kids both in the USA and even more so in Japan, she hopes both the national team’s success and her own personal achievements will inspire a new generation of girls to take the sport to even greater heights.
“You have to have a mentality not to settle where you are at the moment and keep striving to be a better player,” she explained of what it will take for that next generation to reach an even higher level. “I will keep doing that myself to set an example for the younger generation.”
Now, as the Storm prepare to decide their destiny in the new single-elimination rounds of the playoffs, Tokashiki is poised to play a major role both with the Storm and with growing the sport globally for years to come. Asked how she prepares to handle those challenges, she simply said this: “I’m always ready.”