Ramu Tokashiki, a 6-foot-3 forward, is expected to make Seattle’s roster. It would make her the third Japanese player to compete in the WNBA. Yuko Oga played for Phoenix in 2008 while Mikiko Hagiwara played for the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs (1997) and Phoenix (1997-98).
A half-dozen journalists attended the second day of Storm training camp Monday. All were interested in one player: Ramu Tokashiki.
A 6-foot-3 forward, Tokashiki stands out in the basketball world in Japan. Nicknamed “Taku” (pronounced TOCK), Japanese slang for strong, she signed with the Storm to be challenged by WNBA players.
“I understand she has no competition, per se, within the Japanese basketball system,” said journalist Misa Seely of American Sports Access. “There’s nobody as tall as she is and nobody as quick as she is. Her size and strength and ability to score is what makes her a superstar.”
Tokashiki is expected to make Seattle’s regular-season roster. It would make her the third Japanese player to compete in the WNBA. Yuko Oga played for Phoenix in 2008 while Mikiko Hagiwara played for the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs (1997) and Phoenix (1997-98).
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Tokashiki, 23, is a four-time MVP of the Women’s Japan Basketball League, helping her team win the league championship in April. She averaged 18.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game this season.
On Monday at the Storm’s practice facility, Tokashiki was feeling new to the sport like the rest of the players in camp. The morning featured newly introduced work on shooting techniques and lifting. The team returned for combined drills and scrimmaging in the evening. Tokashiki is always on the court with an interpreter.
“I’m starting to grasp what they are saying, it’s expressing myself which is more the problem,” Tokashiki said. “I’m trying to learn as fast as possible and imitate what people are doing.”
International flavor is normal for the Storm franchise. The team re-signed Australian Abby Bishop and has countrywoman Jenna O’Hea on the roster for a second season along with Waltiea Rolle, who’s from the Bahamas.
Bishop was a member of the 2010 championship team but didn’t log a minute during the Storm’s historic 7-0 sweep to the title. She’s since helped Australia win bronze at the 2012 London Games and was named the 2015 MVP of her country’s Women’s National Basketball League.
“Now that I’ve checked the Olympics off the list, this is something I wanted to build on more,” said Bishop, who didn’t participate in on-court drills Monday due to a minor calf injury. “I was a bench player, very young the last time I was here. This time I feel normal, I’ve experienced a bit more. I’m hoping I’ve grown to take a little bit more of a role on the team.”
Storm coach Jenny Boucek and Alisha Valavanis, the team’s general manager, specifically targeted global diversity as part of the organization’s rebuild.
Valavanis watched Tokashiki at the World Championships in Turkey last fall. But it was research from former WNBA guard Ticha Penicheiro that really piqued the Storm’s interest.
Penicheiro is now an agent with Sports International Group, which represents Tokashiki.
“It’s hard for a player to woo me,” said Penicheiro, the league’s all-time leader in assists (2,599). “I just loved her athletically because she’s a stretch-forward, has good form and can dunk the ball. Of course, her team wasn’t great, she was playing for Japan, but I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I really love her game.’ The only bad thing is she doesn’t speak English.”
That didn’t matter Monday as she carried on with a cluster of reporters fluent in Japanese.
“I didn’t think the Japanese press would come all the way here to talk to me in Seattle,” said Tokashiki, who’s popular with the press in Japan and has 22,900 Twitter followers. “It’s surprising. But I really want to promote basketball in Japan more. That’s one of my missions.”
• Tina Thompson, a former Storm All-Star, was named an assistant coach at Texas. She retired in 2013 after a 17-year WNBA career, leading Seattle to the playoffs that season.