The amount of peanut butter must be perfectly equal to jelly when Krystal Thomas makes a sandwich.
"I have to make it the same way my mom did," said the 6-foot-5 center for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. "I eat oatmeal every single morning because she used to feed all of us oatmeal out of one big bowl.
"She's made me pretty much everything that I am as a woman today. She's the person that challenged me, that pushed me, that was tough on me but also loved me to the ends of the earth."
Thomas, an Orlando native and former First Academy standout, lost her mother, Natalie, to breast cancer when she was 16, five years after her father, Victor, was sentenced to seven years in prison for drug trafficking and counterfeiting.
She will play in a consolation preseason game against the Indiana Fever at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports at 10 a.m. on Mother's Day. The game is part of a weekend-long WNBA tournament featuring four teams. The Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx will play at 12:30 p.m. for the championship.
Thomas scored two points and grabbed six rebounds Friday night in the Mercury's 72-64 loss to the Lynx. The WNBA regular season will begin Friday.
After earning a degree in psychology from Duke, Thomas was selected by the Seattle Storm in the third round of the 2011 WNBA draft and signed with the Mercury last year. She hopes to pursue a career in medical sales when she retires from basketball.
"Her drive and perseverance in life, she got that from my mom," said Thomas' sister, Loren, 22. "It helped her to get through different trials life threw at her, beyond just what happened in her childhood."
Thomas' father, Victor, was released from prison in 2007, in time to watch his daughter win the Florida Dairy Farmers' Miss Basketball Award after leading the Royals to a second state title as a senior.
"A chapter closed, and we started writing a new one," said Thomas, who lives with her father and four siblings in Orlando. "It was hard at first, but it's been something we work toward every single day and make steps to progress and build a functional relationship again."
Said sister Erika, 20, who attends the University of Connecticut: "We really just stuck together. My mom always told us, 'At the end of the day, you only have each other.' No matter where Krystal was, she was always just a phone call away."
Victor Thomas, a former captain with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, could not make it to the tournament because he was undergoing knee surgery, but more than 20 family members and friends bought tickets. That contingent included her three sisters and former TFA teammate Alexa Deluzio, whose parents became Thomas' guardians after she lost her parents.
One person, though, had the best seat in the house: Thomas' mom.
"Because of her faith, I know she's in heaven," Thomas said. "And she doesn't have to buy a ticket to watch me play.
"She used to always tell me, 'Chase after your dreams. Do what you want to do. It's the reason I continue to play basketball, because she was always pushing me to be the best Krystal that I could be."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun