Thomas Mature Beyond Her Years

Kevin Pelton, | May 23, 2011

Seattle Storm rookie Krystal Thomas brings a presence on and off the floor that belies her age. Thomas, the Storm's third-round pick out of Duke University, won't turn 22 until next month, but her maturity is understandable given the way circumstances forced her to grow up quickly.

Thomas was 11 when her family was shaken by the arrest of her father, Victor, a captain in the Orange County (Fla.) sheriff's department. Victor Thomas, an 18-year veteran of the force, was caught trafficking stolen goods and was sentenced to seven years in prison. That left mom Natalie to look after Krystal and her four brothers and sisters, which was complicated when Natalie Thomas was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Victor's sentencing.

 Storm rookie Krystal Thomas at Duke University.
Courtesy Duke University

Thomas' path to Duke and the WNBA forced her to mature quickly as a second mother to her four younger siblings.

Krystal, the oldest of her siblings, stepped in to help her mother.

"I was forced into adult-like situations starting at 11 years old," she said. "Most 11 year olds don't do that. I've learned how to grow up, to be in leadership positions much faster than most other people. From being a second mother to my siblings I've learned how to be vocal and a leader."

In January 2006, after authoring the book No More Than I Can Bear about her life and battle with cancer, Natalie Thomas succumbed to breast cancer at age 48. Krystal, then 16 and a junior in high school, delivered her mother's eulogy.

At the time, the youngest of the Thomas siblings was just five. As much as Krystal had been able to do to assist her mother, the family needed an adult presence. Enter the parents of Krystal's teammate at The First Academy in Orlando, guard Alexa Deluzio (now a rising junior at Florida State). Don and Sheri Deluzio, who had befriended Natalie Thomas before her death, got her blessing and welcomed the Thomases into their home, blending the two total families with a combined nine children.

By that point, Krystal Thomas had emerged as an elite basketball prospect. She was named the state of Florida's Miss Basketball and played in the McDonald's High School All-America Game. Thomas had her pick of colleges, but already knew where she wanted to go. Since childhood, Thomas had aspired to attend Duke, where she got the chance to combine playing for a powerhouse basketball program with a top education. When her basketball career is over, whenever that is, Thomas plans to go to medical school with an eye toward becoming a surgeon.

As a basketball player, Thomas' maturity was evident in her leadership and ability to communicate to her teammates the right place to be on defense.

"It's carried over on to the court," she said. "It's just a matter of taking in what the coaches say and reiterating it in a way that everyone can follow and understand. To me, this is easy. I can pick up a play and tell people where they need to be."

A role player with the Blue Devils, Thomas never put up big offensive numbers. However, she led the ACC in rebounding as a senior and her size and defensive potential were intriguing to WNBA scouts. The Storm made Thomas the last pick in the April WNBA Draft, giving her the chance to compete with other young post players for one of the last spots on the roster. As Thomas has gone through training camp a continent away from home, she's had her family with her in spirit.

"They're calling and texting me every day," she said. "They're really excited for me. I'm just proud that my sisters and brothers get to say, 'My older sister is trying out for the WNBA.' That part makes me feel proud. It's not about what I did. Everyone's so proud of me. They've always been so supportive of what I've done. It's a humbling experience."

When Thomas talks about her family, she now means both her biological siblings and the Deluzios. The entire group - 11 strong, including Krystal - has played a role in her journey and continues to inspire her.

"Maybe I talk a little bit louder, run a little bit harder knowing that I have a bunch of people back home I'm playing for."
- Thomas

"To look at where all 11 of us have come from through my family's situation and for me to be here," said Thomas, "it's a testament to how much willpower all of us had. It gives me a little extra boost. Maybe I talk a little bit louder, run a little bit harder knowing that I have a bunch of people back home I'm playing for."

A week into her first WNBA training camp, Thomas is enjoying the experience.

"It's been amazing," she said. "It's been unreal. I just came in with an open mind and open heart, ready to learn and take in whatever was going on. I came in with no expectations at all but ready to work hard. I'm very fortunate to be here, to be around these people and have this opportunity."

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