Newspaper article International New York Times

Japan Rookie Finds Her Game ; Her W.N.B.A. Debut Has Been a Hit, and She's Becoming a Fan Favorite

Newspaper article International New York Times

Japan Rookie Finds Her Game ; Her W.N.B.A. Debut Has Been a Hit, and She's Becoming a Fan Favorite

Article excerpt

Seattle's Ramu Tokashiki, the third Japanese woman to play in the W.N.B.A. and the most successful yet, has become a growing fan favorite.

The first English word the Japanese forward Ramu Tokashiki learned from her Seattle Storm teammates is unprintable here. Used in jest, it has become Tokashiki's favorite saying. But another favorite English word is "confidence," something she has built during her first W.N.B.A. season. Tokashiki has become one of the league's best rookies and a blooming fan favorite, while hoping to change the perception of women's basketball in Japan.

"I want to prove that the Japanese player could do well in a world-class league," Tokashiki, 24, said through her interpreter.

Over the past five years, Tokashiki dominated the Women's Japan Basketball League, winning multiple most valuable player awards for her regular-season and playoff performances. But with the competition undemanding, she left the Japanese league to try out for a roster spot with Seattle.

During informal workouts before training camp, the 6-foot-3 Tokashiki dunked with ease on one of her first touches. She said she had to "burn something in everyone's minds."

Tokashiki instantly captivated the nine-time All-Star Sue Bird.

"Immediately you can see the crazy athleticism," said Bird, who has played for the Storm since 2002. "Tok is probably one of the fastest post players I've ever seen."

Bird said Tokashiki's speed fueled her jumping ability. In the warm-up line before Friday's game against the Connecticut Sun, as the rest of her teammates made layups with their hands barely reaching the net, Tokashiki fluidly finger-rolled the ball, her head nearing the rim.

Noticing her raw skill, Storm Coach Jenny Boucek played Tokashiki for 20 minutes in the first game of the season, and she scored 6 points in an 86-61 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks.

But after consecutive blowout losses to the Tulsa Shock and the Minnesota Lynx, Tokashiki momentarily questioned whether she had made the right decision about playing abroad.

In Japan, no player could match her size, but in the United States, she needed to acclimate to playing against the world's best competition. After the Lynx game, in which she shot 1 for 10, Tokashiki focused on her strengths: defense and athleticism.

Tokashiki, listed at 176 pounds, has found the physicality of the W.N.B.A. to be particularly challenging. Recently, she sported a bruise the size of a baseball on her right arm. After her first basket against the Sun, she was hit in the face. Later, she returned the favor with a hard foul on Camille Little.

"She kind of plays with a little chip on her shoulder," San Antonio Stars guard Kayla McBride said. "I remember we played them, she was running the floor every single time. That's really special - - that shows a lot about her. …

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