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JPN - Tokashiki on a mission
BANGKOK (FIBA Asia Championship for Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) - No player has had as much of an impact on the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women as Ramu Tokashiki of Japan.
The only unbeaten side in the competition, the Japanese have quickness in abundance but are small - except for the 22-year-old Tokashiki.
The Tokyo native is 1.92m in height, but plays even bigger.
In basketball parlance, she is "long".
She scores, rebounds and blocks shots, and does it all with flair.
"Japanese players are a little small," captain Yuko Oga said.
"But we have a big heart.
"With Tokashiki, she's tall and gets a lot of rebounds and that's important."
In Tuesday night's game against Korea, a side that had knocked off two-time defending champions China on opening day, 72-70, Tokashiki poured in 16 first-half points.
Korea coach We Sungwoo targeted her in the third quarter, instructing his players to smother Tokashiki whenever she touched the ball in the low post.
Tokashiki didn't add to her tally, yet remained composed and passed to her teammates.
Later, she rose to the occasion.
With 11 seconds to go and Japan trailing by two, she jumped to catch an inbound pass and was fouled.
Walking to the line with a wry smile, she sank both free-throws to tie the contest and force overtime.
"She is able to calm down and says, 'I can do it,'" Oga said.
"She trusts herself."
Tokashiki scored the first two points of the overtime and Japan ended up winning, 78-71.
The center finished with a game-high 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a block.
Having beaten Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei in their first two games, Japan remained unbeaten.
Tokashiki is the most dominant player in the tournament, averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Japan sure could have used her last year when they competed at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women but Tokashiki sat out with an ankle injury.
They trounced Korea but then lost in a do-or-die game to Canada and missed the London Games.
Tokashiki has been on a mission ever since.
"I couldn't play last year, so I really wanted to play this year. It made me hungrier," she said.
A top three finish would get Japan to the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women in Turkey.
But the country hasn't won the Asian title since 1970.
"I want to play at the World Championship," Tokashiki said, "but I want to be a champion this year.
"I'm confident that if we play as a team, we can do it."
If there is a lot of pressure on Japan to be successful this summer, it's not evident when one looks at Tokashiki.
She was as relaxed as anyone when she buried her free-throws to force the overtime.
The tougher the challenge, the more fun she seems to have.
"I very much like playing basketball," she said.
"I can play against a lot of players, go up against players taller than me.
Tokashiki says she doesn't have a dream when it comes to the sport.
"I am looking for a dream," she said.
"I don't have one, yet. I just want to win basketball games."
What about the prospect of making it to Turkey for the World Championship next year and playing against the stars of the United States?
"Yes, I want to play against the top teams and best players," she said, "but first of all, I want to be become a champion here."
For full and in-depth coverage of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women, go to the official http://bangkok2013.fibaasia.net.