Japan Uses Speed, Not Size, to Take Women’s Basketball to New Heights

“If we can continue to get fans like this, fan support leading up to 2020 in Tokyo would be huge,” Hovasse said.

In the arena’s concourse, lines of 30 or more waited to purchase a wide assortment of W.J.B.L. merchandise — 300 yen for buttons; 1,200 for programs; 3,000 for shirts. Young children crowded around tables where they could draw signs proclaiming support for Taku, as Tokashiki is known.

Tokashiki also commanded respect from her colleagues. Before the game, she patrolled the court like a nightclub V.I.P., greeted by hugs from Fujitsu players while spectators wearing Storm and JX-Eneos apparel took photographs. She did not disappoint, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

“She has become the face of women’s basketball here,” Hovasse said.

One of her teammates in Seattle, the All-Star Sue Bird, said she had observed the importance Tokashiki had placed on improving Japanese basketball as she watched Tokashiki increase her workouts this summer in preparation for Rio.

“You could sense that was extremely important for her,” Bird said. “You could probably tell they were going to ride or die based on how Tok played.”


A player for the Niigata Albirex BB Rabbits drove on the JX-Eneos Sunflowers on Saturday in Tokyo.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Tokashiki says she prefers competing in the United States, in part because it provides a respite from the pressure in Japan. In the W.N.B.A., Tokashiki is also allowed more freedom to float around the perimeter and enjoys running fast breaks alongside American Olympians like Bird and Breanna Stewart. In Japan, Tokashiki’s size advantage — she is listed at 6 feet 3 inches — means she often spends more minutes stationed in the post.

One hurdle to international success for her country is that size is scarce among the current Japanese player pool, a fact Hovasse realized when he began coaching in Japan in 2009. With the assistance of the former Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines, who recently has worked as a guest coach with Japan and is another disciple of Paul Westhead’s up-tempo offensive style, Hovasse has helped engrave speed on the soul of Japanese basketball.

“The pace of play has to be fast,” Hovasse said. “We can’t compete with America, Australia in the halfcourt game. We’re just physically not capable of that. We can push the pace, push tempo. That’s in our control.”

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