Brandi Thomas transforms to a leader for WSU women’s basketball

Sitting across the interview table, WSU senior forward Brandi Thomas has a protein shake after completing a workout. Besides preparing to graduate at the end of the semester, Thomas is getting ready to take her talents across the water, specifically to Australia.

On her road to playing international basketball, she made a stop at the 2014 Nashville Combine, an event in which women’s basketball head coach June Daugherty said Thomas excelled.

“She’s got a lot of interest from several agents to represent her, so right now her biggest focus is pretty much just finish up school strong and to dedicate on who she wants the representation from,” Daugherty said. “From there I think she’ll sit down with her family to decide that and then from there figure out what country, what team she wants to go and participate and play professionally.”

If professional basketball doesn’t work out for Thomas, she plans to stay in the sports industry and use her degree in kinesiology along with her minors in business and strength and conditioning. This career would satisfy two of her passions: working in athletics and helping athletes improve their game.

“I hope someday she’ll get into coaching because I think that with her Kinesiology degree that she would be a great coach for anybody,” Daugherty said.

Sports are more than a hobby for Thomas; they’re her lifestyle. Since she could walk, Thomas has been involved with sports, beginning on the soccer field where her parents coached her and continuing in the fifth grade when she decided to give basketball a try.

Thomas’ best friend Katie Colard taught the WSU senior how to dribble a basketball. Colard, now a junior at Western Washington, taught Thomas the technique of dribbling using construction cones for Thomas to dribble through.

The WSU senior would go on to play AAU basketball in eighth grade and throughout her high school career, an experience she said she enjoyed because it combined traveling and playing the game she loved.

The McCleary native then enrolled at Elma High School and immediately made an impact on the varsity basketball team her freshman year. Thomas recorded 76 blocks in her first season at Elma and broke the school record in blocks by 20.

“It was kind of crazy because I was going in as one of the tallest girls. I wasn’t the biggest, but I knew I had shoes to fill also,” Thomas said. “Being a freshman, I just tried to do my best out there.”

Her continued dominance earned her Evergreen Conference Most Valuable Player in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons at Elma. Thomas shattered her blocks record by 53 in her sophomore year. During her senior year she was named to the Tacoma News Tribune’s All-Area, Seattle Times All-State First Team and was a McDonald’s All American nominee. Thomas got to play alongside her best friend Colard at Elma High School as well.

“We were in a tough league too, which was even more great about the whole thing just because every game you earned it and it was tough like a state, the people that were left were in our league, that felt great to accomplish those things,” Thomas said.

Gonzaga was one of many schools to express interest in Thomas after the state tournament of her sophomore year. A year later, Washington State followed suit.

“It was a family atmosphere,” Thomas said about WSU. “Everyone is so nice here and you just know. It just clicks as soon as you come here. Every game, it’s not just the students there, it’s the whole community. Football games are amazing and that was a big thing for me on my visit, just to look up at the crowd and just see that this is what WSU is all about.”

In her freshman season, Thomas, like most freshmen, got off to a bit of rocky start.

“Most freshmen struggle their first year no matter what kind of career they have in high school,” Daugherty said. “It’s such an extremely different level. I thought that Brandi did a really good job, that’s why she played the minutes she did play here freshman year.”

A student of the game, Thomas spent time studying film and fine tuning her game with the coaching staff, Daugherty said.

“(Thomas) is a phenomenal leader in our program, and somebody that I can always count on to put the team first, and to work hard by example,” Daugherty said. “At times she is a vocal leader too, she’s not afraid to call people out.”

This year, Thomas helped lead the WSU women’s basketball team this season to their first postseason tournament appearance since 1991. The Cougars lost in the opening round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament to the Montana Grizzlies.

“I still know the team can do better things next year, but I was super excited to be a part of that, just from growing from freshman year, not even making it past the first day of the Pac-12 Tournament to now making it (to the) postseason senior year,” Thomas said. “That’s been great to watch this program come along.”