Coming into the Cougars 2002-03 men's basketball season, the big focus and attention getter was the team's leading scorer, junior guard, Marcus Moore. Many considered Moore to be a Pacific-10 All-Conference team member, and some possibly an All-America candidate. But few considered that by the 16th game of the season, sophomore Thomas Kelati would be anchoring the backcourt at the guard position.
Due to an ankle injury, Moore has been sidelined for much of the season. Meanwhile, Kelati has stepped up his game and become a leader and a go-to-guy on the court.
"The first day I was a little uncomfortable," Kelati recalled. "But the Oregon trip was very encouraging and now I feel no pressure."
On that trip, his first without Moore by his side, Kelati averaged 15 points per game, shooting nearly 53 percent from the floor. He added another 13 points, shooting 50 percent from the floor and going 3-for-6 from 3-point range the following week at Washington. Kelati also dished out a career high eight assists, Feb. 8 against Arizona State. He currently ranks in the top 10 throughout the Pac-10 in four different categories, which include: assists, 3-point field goal percentage, 3-point field goals made, and steals.
"He is smart and takes good shots," said WSU Head Coach Paul Graham.
Being in the spotlight is not something new to him. Just two years ago, Kelati was the star player for Walla Walla High School. He was named to the all-conference team and ranked in the top 15 of prep shooting guards in the west by Pac West Hoops.
Though he has experienced much success, getting to where he is has not all been easy.
"I think my work ethic is what got me here," Kelati said. "I would like to be known as one of the hardest workers and a defensive threat."
"He is an outstanding defender," said Graham. "He will be a great leader for our team in the future."
Kelati also gives credit to others when it is due. He feels that his coaches, and especially his parents have helped him get to where he is today.
Kelati's parents have not missed a home basketball game all year. He appreciates the fact that they have supported him from day one and have made him a better person along the way.
"It means a lot (for them to be close)," Kelati says. "It's very beneficial for any player to have their parents close to them."
Kelati feels that coming to WSU was his best option out of high school, not only because of the closeness to home, but also because immediate playing time was not out of the question.
As a freshman, Kelati started 15 games, 10 in the conference.
"It was a good experience (playing as a freshman)," Kelati said. "I have noticed a big improvement from last year. I have become more assertive and know what to expect (at the Pac-10 level)."
With five games left, Kelati has started all 22 games and is the only member of the team to have appeared in all 22 games for the banged-up Cougars this season. He is leading the team in minutes played and is looking to get the Cougars back on track for the remainder of the year, and in upcoming seasons where he is looking forward to post-season action.