Player globetrotting is the most contentious issue between the athletes and league. From injuries due to year-round play to inconsistent penalties when games were missed in the past, it had to be addressed in the new collective-bargaining agreement.
You can put a price tag on the Olympic dream.
It’s about $3,892 for Storm forward Ramu Tokashiki and approximately $3,074 for Indiana forward Natalie Achonwa.
The rookies will play each other Friday night when Seattle (7-19) hosts Indiana (15-9) at KeyArena.
Achonwa helped Canada qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Tokashiki leaves Saturday to join her Japanese national team in a quest for its first Olympic bid in women’s basketball since 2004.
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“It’s a great time to be a Canadian basketball player,” said Achonwa, who scored 12 points Sunday to help defeat Cuba for the FIBA Americas gold medal and an automatic Olympic berth.
But because Achonwa missed three games and Tokashiki will miss four to participate in their respective FIBA tournaments, each will be fined a maximum of 2.5 percent of their base pay per game for the WNBA absence, according the collective-bargaining agreement signed in 2014.
Achonwa, the ninth overall pick in the WNBA draft last season, is guaranteed $40,992 this summer, according to the CBA. Tokashiki was signed as a free agent in April, making the league-minimum $38,913, according to a source.
Player globetrotting is the most contentious issue between the athletes and league. From injuries due to year-round play to inconsistent penalties when games were missed in the past, it had to be addressed in the new CBA.
The first test of the parameters is this summer.
“It’s difficult, because Canada Basketball got me to where I am,” Achonwa said of the fine, which will be enforced by the WNBA if the individual teams decline to do so. “I wouldn’t be on the Fever team if it weren’t for the junior basketball academy or the month I took off in college (at Notre Dame), to play for my Canadian team.”
Players such as Achonwa and Tokashiki, and Lauren Jackson (Australia) and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota (Latvia) before them, are reasons the WNBA can boast it’s the best league in the world. But for WNBA team owners, selling tickets to see the top international players compete in America is tricky if teams don’t know when or if those stars will play.
However, the WNBA works with USA Basketball in scheduling the season around training camps so Americans aren’t penalized when it comes to national-team commitments. The squad also has won an unprecedented five consecutive Olympic gold medals, so it doesn’t need to participate in as many qualifiers as countries such as Canada and Japan.
“It’s a fairness issue,” said Evie Goldstein, the first-year director of operations for the WNBA players’ union. She expects adjustments when the CBA can be terminated in 2019.
Achonwa (8.5 points per game) and Tokashiki (8.3) are second and third, respectively, to Storm guard Jewell Loyd in rookie scoring. Achonwa (3.5) and Tokashiki (3.1) also rank in the top 10 among rookies in rebounding.
Tokashiki credits Storm coach Jenny Boucek for developing her perimeter game and strength. Tokashiki was a four-time MVP in her native country but relied on her athleticism and 6-foot-3 height to dominate the Women’s Japan Basketball League.
“Jenny tells her one thing during video sessions, and you see it in the very next game,” Storm forward Jenna O’Hea said of Tokashiki’s growth. “She can create more, drive and kick and post up players now, which I don’t think she’s done a lot of. I truly believe she’s going to absolutely dominate at Asian qualifiers.”
For Tokashiki, the mandated WNBA fine is almost worth the experience. She had two goals: to play in the WNBA and qualify for the Olympics. She’s achieved one. Japan’s first attempt for an Olympic berth will be at the FIBA Asia Championship for Women from Aug. 29-Sept. 5 in China.
“It’s worth it if we win … and I come back qualified for the Olympics,” she said through an interpreter.