Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Lakers sign Walla Walla native Thomas Kelati

Kelati dribbles up the court as he provides a surprising lift for the Polish League powerhouse Turow Zgorzelic.
Kelati dribbles up the court for Spain's Unicaja Malaga. After enjoying success last season on the Spanish team, Kelati hopes to transition with the same success in Los Angeles.

After a long, somewhat unconventional, journey that has taken him around the globe, Walla Walla native Thomas Kelati has finally reached the NBA, the unquestioned and seldom attained pinnacle of professional basketball.   Roughly four and a half years removed from playing collegiately at Washington State, Kelati is now playing for the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers alongside 2009 Western Conference All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, having taken career detours in Belgium, Poland and Spain.

The Lakers signed Kelati: a 6’5” swingman with a silky jump shot: to its training camp roster on September 30th.   Earlier in the offseason, the Walla Walla High School product signed a two-year deal with Euroleague power Olympiakos.   However, the club revoked the deal as a result of a failed physical.   Former Lakers’ second round pick Von Wafer, who played for the Houston Rockets last season, added a compelling twist to this saga by signing with Olympiakos and filling the slot that Kelati otherwise would have.

Last season, as a member of Spain’s Unicaja Malaga, Kelati posted averages of 11.8 points and 1.9 rebounds per game and tied the Euroleague record for most three-pointers made in a single game by astoundingly draining nine against Lottomatica Roma.   Prior to playing in the Euroleague, Kelati played an essential role in Turow Zgorzelec’s consecutive appearances in the Polish League finals in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons.

Kelati, the world’s only professional basketball player with Eritrean roots, averaged 14.5 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals per game over the duration of his senior season at Walla Walla High and figures prominently into Washington State’s record books. Kelati ranks third in three-point percentage (42.7), second in three-point field goals made (232), seventh in steals (133) and eighth in assists (274).   As a senior, he averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game en route to earning a spot on the 2005 All-Pacific 10 Conference Team.

In spite of what Kelati has accomplished at this point, it is quite conceivable that the Lakers, with so many talented players already firmly entrenched in roster spots, will cut him before the preseason expires.   Even if he does make the regular season roster, there is little hope that Kelati, who played just eight minutes in the team’s first preseason game, will steal anything more than a sporadic sliver of playing time from Bryant, Ron Artest, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton on the wings.

Still, merely having this opportunity represents a defining moment in Kelati’s career.   After a journey that started in Walla Walla and led him overseas, the dream of playing in the NBA is at last within his reach.

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    Bécquer Medak-SeguínOct 22, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Unfortunately, the Lakers waived Kelati on October 21. They are looking to trim their roster to 13, which means that Tony Gaffney, who, like Kelati, was invited to spend the summer and preseason in the Lakers’ training camp, will likely be waived as well. We’ll see where the former Washington State star from Walla Walla ends up next.

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