Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, July 17, 2017

WNBA Feature: Former Duke Star Krystal Thomas Proving as Role Player Washington Sought

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

INDIANAPOLIS – Krystal Thomas is happy, healthy, and home.

Thomas was sitting comfortably in a beige folding chair like it was an old recliner in front of her brown locker with her arm crossed, legs stretched out, and clear bags of melting ice wrapped around both knees and ankles after scoring a season-best 14 points to lead the Washington Mystics to a 72-58 victory over the Indiana Fever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last Friday.

She was also temporarily speechless when asked about being a member of the Mystics. Thomas, who is enjoying her time in the nation’s capital, took three seconds to supply an answer.

“I am not really sure what the best word is other than great,” Thomas said. “I feel like there needs to be a more stronger and powerful word than (great) because it’s been an awesome refreshing breath of air to be part of this team and organization with this group of players, teammates and coaches. I am happier playing here this year.”

The Mystics are Thomas’ fourth team since she was drafted by the Seattle Storm in 2011 after a successful career at Duke. In addition to playing in Seattle, Thomas has also played for Phoenix and Indiana. In two games against the Fever this season, Thomas has been spectacular averaging 14 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

While the offseason additions of Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver made headlines, Thomas’ signing was just as important.

“We knew we had to do some things in the offseason to facilitate getting Elena and Kristi,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “With the long term contracts of Emma (Meesseman) and Tayler (Hill) kicking in this year, we knew as part of the trades, number one we had to give up Steph Dolson to get Elena. In order to have salary cap room to do Kristi, we had to have a different salary cap so Kia Vaughn became the victim of that.”

Thomas, who turned 28 last month, has been a blessing for the Mystics, who fell to 11-9 overall after losing to the New York Liberty, 85-55, Sunday afternoon. She had 10 rebounds in that contest, the sixth time she’s finished with double-digit rebounds.

The affable 6 foot, 5 inch Thomas has been a beast this season for the Mystics supplying a nightly dose of buckets, blocks and boards. Thomas blocked four shots against the Fever. She’s also a dependable offensive option in the post.

“We needed a post player who could play alongside Elena and Emma and who could do some of the dirty work to get people open,” Thibault said. “She’s a great screener, a great rebounder on both ends of the floor, a shot blocker and understands her role. She knows we’re not going to run a million plays for her. She’s going to get her points by running the floor, getting on the boards and setting good screens. We thought of all the people out there that we could go get, she understood her role as well as anybody.”

Against the Fever, Thomas opened the scoring with a basket on a play designed for her. Late in the game with the Fever making things interesting, Thomas scored on a cutting layup off of an Toliver assist, which helped ease the Mystics stress level and raised their bulge to 72-54 with three minutes remaining.

In addition to averaging 6.5 points per game, Thomas is shooting an efficient 56 percent from the field this season.

“My career has been up and down,” Thomas said. “I’ve primarily been a role player throughout my years in the league. It’s been a great opportunity for me here in D.C. to break out and have a break out year. Coach T has a lot of trust in me. He brought me here for reason. I just try and do my job each and every day.

“That has led me to be able to do the things that I’ve been able to do. I also have great teammates that support me. They have helped me develop and grow my game by encouraging and keeping me uplifted. That’s been a big part of it as well knowing that my teammates have my back to go out and play confidently, freely and help us get wins.”

She has fit perfectly on and off the court for the Mystics. Following their last home game against the Liberty on June 28, Thomas’, whose locker sits between Natasha Cloud and Tianna Hawkins, was chiming in and making jokes while each player was being interviewed.

Thomas has come a long way from the gangly, uncoordinated player who used to be injured a lot when she started playing basketball. That is until her growth spurt between seventh and eighth grade.

“Once I stopped being gangly and my body understood how tall I was, I was able to play and use my length and height and play,” Thomas said. “I’ve always been able to defend and rebound, I have done more scoring here. That’s just been through the day-in and day-out work that the coaches has helped me with.”

With Hill out for the year because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Delle Donne’s status from a sprained ankle is day-to-day, Thomas doesn’t believe the Mystics will put any additional pressure on themselves to perform. They are confident they still have enough pieces to do something special this season.

Washington hosts Atlanta (8-10 overall) Wednesday morning at the Verizon Center at 11:30 a.m. The Mystics have 14 games remaining to make a run as they currently sit in fifth place in the standings.

“That’s why we have a team of 12 (players),” Thomas said. “That’s why we work every day, all 12 getting ready for games because you never know what happens. It’s a long season. Injuries happen every season, losses happen every season. So you have to be able to continue to grind, continue to bounce back and take it one game at a time because each game bring different challenges as we play.

“It won’t be on one person to pick up the slack, it’ll be on all of us. It’s everybody being one possession better. We all have strengths that contribute to the team success and it’s a matter of us playing in our roles the best way possible and competing as a group.”