Thomas Walkup is a 25 year old 193cm guard from Pasadena, Texas playing his first season with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. He played his rookie season with the Windy City Bulls (D-League) playing 40 games averaging 7.6ppg, 3.9rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 53.4%, 3PT: 28.2%, FT: 84.5%. He played at SF Austin (NCAA) from 2012-2016 playing a total of 133 NCAA games. In his senior season he played 34 games averaging 18.1ppg, 6.9rpg, 4.5apg, 2.1spg, FGP: 62.7%, 3PT: 25.6%, FT: 81.7%. He spoke to German Hoops before the game against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg in Oldenburg.
Thomas, thanks for talking to German Hoops. Last season you were in the States for Christmas and New year playing in the D-League, but this season playing in Germany a day before Christmas and playing after New Years. Are you a fan of this type of schedule or would you rather have that special time with family and friends?
Spending time with the family is always very special. I was lucky to have my family visit me on December 26th. But at the same time this is my job and you have to make sacrifices and you have to be ready to play.
The NBA is the goal of every player, but after a season in the G-League, you decided to put it on hold and come to Europe. How vital has the signing with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg been considering how well the season is going for the team and your play?
It has been very important. As a player I am reaching my potential here and doing all I can to fit the system. It has been a great fit for me. I really like to play for coach Patrick. The team and coach also fit well and is one of the reasons why we have been successful.
The MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg belong to the best teams in the BBL and to the top teams in the Basketball Champions League. If you look back at the first few weeks of practice in August, would you have thought then that the club has the potential and skill to be such a good team?
Yes from day one I felt that we would be successful. We were missing Johannes Thiemann early, but I knew that when he came back that we would be good. We have very skilled and athletic guys on the team and most importantly very unselfish guys. Our unselfishness has created our recipe for winning. It has been a great part of our success and it is a lot of fun playing with this team.
What has been the secret of the success in your opinion? Is the player versatility, deep roster and head coach John Patrick 3 important ingredients for the success?
Those things as well as playing hard and unselfish are key. We are at our best when we play like that. When we play like that then we are tough to beat.
You didn´t need any adjustment period getting used to Patrick´s press style play. What was most challenging for you at the start to get used to this type of play?
For me it was just some of the defensive details. Each coach coaches differently and teach differently. I just remember trying to listen and learn the first weeks and make corrections. It may have taken a few times to learn it all, but eventually I did. Important were also veterans Adam Waleskowski, David Mccray and Kerron Johnson who helped the coach in helping the younger and new players with everything.
The club started off hot winning eight of it´s first nine games, but recently been a little up and down. You beat top team Bamberg, but lost by 20 to title favorite Munich. Does this team have the potential to be a title team In the BBL?
Yes as long as we play aggressive and unselfish it will tough for teams and put us in a good situation to beat anyone.
In the Champions League you have also dominated only Tenerife having your number winning both games. Was it frustrating being swept by this team?
Yes but we didn´t put our best foot forward. We played poorly twice against them. But kudus to them they are a very good team and were able to bring their A game. We didn´t bring our A game.
Was there any teammate that really helped you most with getting integrated best into the team and with the culture of Germany? Perhaps a great veteran like Adam Waleskowski?
Yes he as well as David Mccray and Kerron Johnson have been helpful.
Let´s talk about your game. You’re a fighter that can guard many positions, rebound and has a high basketball IQ. You have been compared to being a smaller Royce White from your college coach Brad Underwood. What other current NBA player do you feel could you compare the way you play on the court?
I would say Matthew Dellavedova. He is a go getter that works very hard, has a high IQ and hits open shots.
You’re a very versatile player that can do a lot. How do you feel has your game grown in the John Patrick system this season?
Coach Patrick has done a great job helping me in the pick and roll and helping me with reads. Also assistant coach Joey Cantens has worked a lot with me on my shot and it has helped. He is a big reason why my shot has been feeling great.
You haven´t been really known as a consistent shooter, but are shooting solid form the field and shooting 46% from outside in the Champions League. Has this rise been due more to a influx of more reps after practice or better shot selection?
I didn´t shoot well last year in the G-League. My season ended early so I had a long off season. I focused on getting up shots. I understood that if I want to be a high level player then I have to work on my shot.
You’re a guy that can fill up the stat sheet, but what do you feel is a hidden strength in your game still that tends to be off the radar for most?
My winning mentality. I feel that we have a lot of guys like that on the team. Having many guys like that makes it helpful to win games.
I see John Patrick and Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert as the two best coaches in the BBL. Patrick is very demanding and will release players and hire new ones at the blink of an eye. How have you profited most from him in your first season in Europe?
He is a perfectionist. Basketball is a game of inches. He is a great guy to be around and a very demanding guy. A big reason why we are winning is because of him. We work until we get it right.
You came into your rookie season as being a guy that could fit the mold of the New look NBA . Instead of landing in the NBA, you played a season with the Windy City Bulls (D-League) playing 40 games averaging 7.6ppg, 3.9rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 53.4%, 3PT: 28.2%, FT: 84.5%. How would you recap your rookie season. One more of disappointment or did you sense hope that you could like so many players reach the NBA now via Europe?
The basketball world is so connected that you can play anywhere in Europe and still be on a NBA team´s radar. I am playing good ball now after not playing as well last season. I will just continue to keep working and see where it takes me.
Usually players try to really play for their stats with scoring, but you stayed faithful to your all around stellar game. Did you leave to come to Europe with the self confidence that the NBA is still realistic. Do you feel NBA clubs took notice of your more unselfish play in a league where players mostly play for stats?
I don´t focus on it. I am lucky that I get paid for something I love doing. I play the game because I love it. I also play the game the way I do because I love playing like that. I will continue to play like this, because I don´t know any other way how to play. I don´t know if teams took notice.
You were briefly teammates with German Paul Zipser. There is a huge German wave in the NBA as Daniel Theis and Maxi Kleber have become important role players. How did you experience Zipser. What do you feel will keep him in the NBA opposed to returning back to Europe?
Paul is a great guy and friend. I think it is great that he has found a place in the NBA. He played well as a rookie for the minutes that he got. He became an important role player. I think that he is an NBA caliber player.
You played at SF Austin (NCAA) from 2012-2016 winning three straight Southland Conf titles form 2014-2016. Which one was the most special?
The first one. It was coach Underwood´s first year and it was a magical season. We went 32-3 and it was really fun playing basketball with the guys. After we won that title, we beat VCU in the NCAA tournament which was it´s first win in school history.
You saved your best for last in the NCAA pouring in 33 points in a upset win of West Virginia and steering home 21 points in a tough 76-75 loss to Notre Dame ending your NCAA career. Where would you be today if you hadn´t made the NCAA tournament as a senior and played those two incredible games?
I wouldn´t be here if I hadn´t played those two games. The NCAA tournament is an awesome event that let´s young kids and mid major schools showcase their skills on a huge stage. Many people saw my game for the first time against West Virginia. It wouldn´t be smart to say that I would be here without the NCAA tournament.
Do you still look back at that Notre Dame loss from time to time reliving the last seconds and what you could have done better to get over the hump?
Absolutely. There were a couple of rebounds and loose balls that we should have had with me included. Once in a while this game pops into my head and I regret it.
When you look back at your development at SF Austin(NCAA) how important was the NCAA tournament loss to UCLA in your second season where you produced 22 points and 11 rebounds. Do you feel this was one of those first games where people really took notice of you?
Yes quite possibly. It was my sophomore season and I was looking to get to the next level. It ended my second season and I was just focused to go into my next season. We had just tasted victory for the first time in the NCAA tournament against VCU.
You played three seasons with Jacob Parker who is playing his second season in Germany with Chemnitz. He put up good numbers in his last two years. How important was he to the winning program at SF Austin(NCAA)?
Jacob was very important for our success. He was an unbelievable player that was so versatile and was one of the best shooters that I ever played together with. He also had a high IQ and was a good passer. He was crucial to our success.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Dallas Cameron?
We are both very competitive and that would have been a bull fight. We never played because we weren´t so much a one on one team. I say I would win and he would say he would win.
How did head coach Brad Underwood prepare and groom you best for a professional basketball career
I did a lot of growing up in school. He brought my game to the next level.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA right now?
Kyle Anderson of the San Antonio Spurs. He was a versatile player that could really pass the ball.
You grew a beard in your last college season and it drew waves. Do you miss anything form the beard?
I don´t miss anything about it, but it was awesome while I had it. It was my trademark then even it was more of a joke. It was fun while it lasted, but that had it´s time in college.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Hakeem Olajuwon, Larry Bird
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
I think that it is impossible to compare them because they played in different era´s. We have been blessed to watch Lebron for the last 15 years. He is an extra special player.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
No that is extremely unfair towards Westbrook. He is an unbelievable competitor that does all for his team to win.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
I couldn´t tell you. I didn´t follow it.
Where will the journey of the Houston Rockets go this season with Chris Paul and James Harden in the back court. Do they have enough to make a serious run at the title or is something missing?
Yes absolutely. They can score with the best of them. They just need to play defense to stay on the Warriors.
How do you rate the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade? Who got the better deal and which team will profit better in the long run?
The Cavs did. They have more guys that can guard a Durant in the finals. The Cavs are more versatile and they aren´t even at full strength without Thomas. It will be fun to watch them when they are at full strength.
Where will the journey of the Oklahoma Thunder go this season with Westbrook, George and Anthony? Can they make a serious run in the west?
Yes they can. I feel that they will hit their stride soon. They have skill and athletic power to beat the Warriors. But that is easier said than done.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Catch me if you can with Leo DiCaprio.
Thanks Thomas for the chat.