A month into the WNBA season, Krystal Thomas received a call she wasn’t expecting.
After being waived by the Storm as one of the final cuts late in training camp, Thomas was offered a spot on a 5-9 Seattle team looking to make a change. The 27-year-old had already been out of the league for a year and spent just one season at her previous stop, Indiana.
Starting with the June 28 win over Atlanta at KeyArena, Thomas played in every single game for the Storm as a backup center. She and fellow veteran Noelle Quinn, who was acquired that same week, helped Seattle go on a remarkable run late in the season.
The Storm went 7-3 after the Olympic break and earned a playoff spot with two games to spare.
“It was a great season, considering where we started and where we ended up,” Thomas said. “To see this team grow together and develop was really cool to be a part of. It just shows that we have a lot of talent, and that if we can put it together, the sky’s the limit for us.
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind. I was in camp, coaching my team, then got called back and thrown into the fire right away. It’s been a roller coaster, but a great one. I’m so thankful to be a part of this team.”
The coaching she’s referring to is her role as an assistant for the women’s team at Grand Canyon University (GCU), where Thomas is now in her second season on the job. At the end of the WNBA season, most Storm players take off to another country and continue playing, while Thomas puts on her coaching hat.
GCU is a Division I school located in Phoenix, and the team plays in the Western Athletic Conference that includes Seattle University. Thomas focuses on both recruiting and player development. Although it doesn’t compare to playing, she said, coaching is something Thomas may keep doing after her WNBA career.
“I really enjoy being able to give back to the girls,” she said. “I’m going to be able to take all this knowledge that I learned and go back and teach it to the girls.”
In her first year with the team, GCU finished tied for third in the WAC and earned a bid to the Women’s Basketball Invitational, a postseason competition for teams that missed the NCAA Tournament.
On September 15, when the Storm played at Phoenix in its final road game of the regular season, the GCU team was in attendance and had a chance to visit with Thomas afterward. This time, it was her players who watched Thomas in action and dissected her every move.
“It’s kind of once-in-a-lifetime for them, to have a coach that plays in the WNBA,” Thomas said. “For the girls to be able to come and see me play, it was really, really cool. It meant a lot.”
In what will surely be another meaningful moment for Thomas, GCU is scheduled to play at Duke on November 17. Thomas played all four years of her college career at Duke and ranks among the school’s all-time leaders in rebounds and blocks.