Tom Tankelewicz is a senior guard for the Catamount basketball team. Most students know him for his great season last year, with 80 3-pointers, making him the fifth for single season 3-pointers scored in Western Carolina University history.
The first word Tankelewicz ever said was “ball.” He first picked up a basketball at age 3 and started playing on a team at five-years-old. He grew up as an all-around sports guy, playing primarily basketball and baseball. As he got older, his father wanted him to play football, but Tankelewicz preferred basketball.
With this passion in play, Tankelewicz’s family encouraged him to pursue basketball at a competitive level. Tankelewicz has a large immediate family with three brothers and two sisters. His brothers are following in his footsteps. Ryan Tankelewicz, who is in 8th grade, can already dunk a ball.
“I want to be a role model for them. I don’t want to mess up and do something I wouldn’t want them to be doing,” said Tom Tankelewicz.
After every game, Tankelewicz calls his grandfather, who has been watching or listening for each match. His grandfather always has optimistic comments about Tankelewicz’s performance. Tankelewicz honors his grandfather’s commitment to his basketball career and himself by writing his grandfather’s birthday on his shoes, 3/13/39.
Along with a strong family commitment, Tankelewicz has a deep love for competition.
He said, “If I didn’t play basketball, I don’t know what I would do for competition.”
Tankelewicz started his college basketball career at Charleston Southern. He then transferred to Western Carolina after his freshman year.
Concerning transferring out of Charleston Southern, he said, “I was immature and I didn’t know how to handle adversity. The first time I was faced with adversity I ran from it.”
The Catamounts will play Charleston Southern at home on Dec. 18.
His first year at WCU, Tankelewicz did not see much playing time, putting him in a slump in sophomore year. Junior year was a completely different story. Tankelewicz had a great year, and he led the Southern Conference in 3-pointers. Tankelewicz describes this dramatic turn around his best individual achievement.
Tankelewicz realizes that the most challenging part of the game to overcome is not the assumed physical aspect of playing.
“The importance of being able to bounce back from a bad game or bad night shooting,” said Tankelewicz. “The game is really more mental than it is physical.”
He added, “I have loved every minute being at Western. It was a tough transition the first year, but I have made lifelong relationships with teammates and coaches. Not just for myself, but for the seniors I came in with, we don’t want to be remembered as average or mediocre. This year we want to turn the ship around and be above 500. We want to go to the NCAA tournament.”
Tankelewicz’s plan for his time after Western Carolina is to play professional basketball.
“I want to play professional basketball for as long as my body will allow me to and as long as I am good at it,” said Tankelewicz.
He wants to use his criminal justice degree to work after playing professional basketball. The possibility of coaching basketball is also on his mind.
This season, as of Dec. 1, Tankelewicz is second in the conference and 23rd in the nation for 3-pointers made.