Thomas Walkup on Zalgiris’s hot start “The sky’s the limit for us”, Shooting lights out “Good things happen when you’re in the gym”, The game vs Maccabi, “Force them into things they don’t want to do”: The star guard talks about his career, success and the future with The Sports Rabbi

Maccabi Tel Aviv welcome Zalgiris on Euroleague Gameday 8 this Thursday night, 21:00 at Yad Eliyahu. The Lithuanian squad is off to a great start with a 5-2 record as new coach Martin Schiller has been able to mold the team into the surprise package of the setons thus far.

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

One of the key players for Schiller and Zalgiris is Thomas Walkup who is in his third season with the club. The guard who joined the team at the start of the 2018 had a breakout year last campaign and averaged 9.6 points, 5.5 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Walkup took some time to get back into the groove this season but when he did last week against Real Madrid he flittered with a triple-double by scoring 18 points, dished out 9 assists and grabbed 7 boards in a 93-90 loss at home in an empty Zalgirio Arena.

“It was just finding my groove and getting in the gym and figuring some things out. I was starting to get my shot to where it felt good and then they started falling. Good things happen when you’re in the gym.”

Martin Schiller – Photo Credit:

Martin Schiller took over from Saras Jasikevičius and has so far been able to get the most out of his new team the Pasadena, Texas native explained as to the secret of his success to date, “It’s been everybody buying in. Some new players with Euroleague experience from other teams came in and we all had to adjust to new system so buying in was extremely important. Everybody is looking at the team goals and not individual ones so that we’re all on the same page.”

“The core group have been through the battles and the war with Arturas Milaknis and Lukas Lekavicius so it makes for an easy transition for coach Schiller. He’s not coming in to a situation where people have to be told to listen. Having a good core was easy for him and to his credit he has a great system and a great easy going personality so it’s a win win for both parties.”

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

While Zalgiris seems to be running an offense that gives the players plenty of freedom, Walkup said that in reality Schiller has his imprint all over the attack, “He has a lot of confidence, he has his rules and system and we will play by that. We know where we are going to attack and sometimes it seems that we are playing super free but it’s really the best of both world’s.”

Very few pundits expected that Zalgiris was going to be a threat at the top of the standings this year, but the Kaunus based team has proved everyone wrong and that it’s not just luck that they have been this good, “This is really who we are. We are talented and experienced, the sky’s the limit for us. We have shown and proven that we can play with everybody but now with everyone gunning for us, we have to keep doing what we are doing and not be complacent.”

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

Growing up, Walkup was fortunate to be surrounded by brothers in his household which allowed him to really get outside and play sports galore, “I grew up with 3 brothers and we played everything from baseball to football, soccer to basketball and that was the sports that I fell in love with. At 14-15 years old, I started playing solely basketball and I have been in love with it ever since.”

“My role model was my older brother Nathan who was one of the best players in Houston and signed with Texas A&M. He was four years younger than me and I was very fortunate to be able to watch as to how hard he worked. I was so thankful that I could watch so closely and super lucky to have that opportunity.”

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

As for college Walkup said that he received only one Division I offer which was from Stephen F. Austin based in Nacogdoches, Texas so the choice was an easy one for the sharpshooter, “I was so lucky that it was my only offer and there wasn’t a great aura or shine. It was a perfect fit for me. The people, the city and everything around the school was just great and my family was able to drive out to every single game in my senior year.”

The Lumberjacks have advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times in their history with three of them coming when Walkup was part of the program. In fact, in his final college victory, Walkup scored 33 points, took 9 rebounds and added 4 assists and 4 steals in an upset win over West Virginia, ”It was huge because we were representing so much; the city, college and program and to be part of that was really special. It was great to do something special with that group of guys.”

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

After going undrafted in 2016, Walkup tried his luck with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Summer League which led to signing a contact with the Chicago Bulls but was cut before the season began and played in the G-League for his first season as a professional.

“It was overwhelming from a small school to go to the big stage. I don’t know if I was quite ready for it and I think I was a little naive to think that there were players from bigger schools and with bigger names who we are now all in the same pot. I was a little set back on my heels and it’s something that I would like to do over in my life.”

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

Following the foray with the Windy City Bulls it was off to Germany for a year with Ludwigsburg where everything seemed to click right off the bat, “It was an amazing experience to play in Germany and with coach John Patrick who my current coach Martin Schiller worked with. It was awesome to be with an American guy abroad because he understood my situation as a rookie, adjusting to the European game and the so many unknowns. He really helped me out in that sense and we had a great group of guys and we had a successful year. I was able to learn quite a lot about the game, had a good year as the team thrived.”

After featuring in the Champions League at Ludwigsburg where Walkup averaged 11 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.2 fouls, while also being named to the BBL First Team and a BBL All-Star, it was off to Lithuania and Zalgiris where he has been ever since, “People back home couldn’t believe that I was heading back to the club for a third year and they just couldn’t understand. The fans and the support behind the club is amazing. My teammates are amazing and the coaching staff, facilities and front office make it enjoyable. It’s not just the fun games but it’s the people and everyday life here which is very special.”

Saras Jasikevičius – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Walkup’s first coach at Zalgiris was Saras Jasikevičius who left this past summer for Barcelona, “He was one of my favorite coaches and he’s a very good teacher. Every single day I was still learning and understanding the game which can’t be taken for granted. I appreciated all the lessons you get at this late in your career and as you get older you.”

As for future plans, Walkup is taking it one season at a time, “I’m definitely a roll with the punches type of guy. My agent works hard and they let me play throughout the season and at the end they say this is what we got so I can focus on playing my best all year long.”

Thomas Walkup – Photo Credit:

Heading into Thursday’s clash, both Maccabi and Zalgiris are coming off of losses and will look to get back onto the winning track, “Maccabi has a bunch of dynamic and explosive scorers and shooters. We have to take away what they want to do and force them into things they don’t want to do and make them uncomfortable. I like our situation.”

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