It was an extremely fierce back and forth battle between the Fraport Skyliners and the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg this season in Frankfurt up to halftime, but in the third quarter, Frankfurt started to pull away leading 72-63 and it looked like the game flow and result would go as usual at home for the 2004 BBL champion with a win, but there was a reddish/blond player who had other ideas on the court. He had a trim and in control beard that wasn´t as out of control as at SF Austin two years ago and unruly like a Sergio Rodriguez. The player that did the damage and heroics for the MHP Riesen was American Thomas Walkup who had grown an outrageous big beard in his senior season at SF Austin during the NCAA run and still smiles today when he is reminded about it. “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”, added Thomas Walkup. The American had had some huge games in the BBL this season against Alba Berlin and Science City Jena with 22 points apiece, but what he performed in Frankfurt was his best game as a professional in Germany. He led his team on a 15-1 run to get back into the game and closed out the game in Jordan like or Curry like fashion putting seemingly his own special like patent on the word scoring in bunches and scoring his team´s last five baskets in a row and making his name not so quickly forgotten in the Fraport arena. He finished with an amazing 27 points on the night the most he has had as a player in Europe, but also displayed his usual versatile game and filled up the stat sheet with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. He probably served up Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert added mind games that evening wondering why he may not have had him on the radar like a John Patrick may have last summer. The amazing thing with Walkup´s points at the end, was that they weren´t mostly open shots, but difficult shots and plays where he had to show his wonderful one on one and scoring in traffic abilities. His scoring was top, he helped out where it hurts most on the boards, made big defensive plays and yes put a little breath of Larry Bird into the arena with his precise and beautiful passing. On one play he had the ball on the sideline and without flinching quickly gunned the ball inside to an open David Mccray for the easy lay up before the Frankfurt defense could even react. “That was a good pass. We had a mix up on defense. He had the sense to figure out before he got the ball to make the pass when he got it”, stressed Philip Scrubb who is a fine passer himself. That pass also proved that he has a very good basketball IQ and sense where his teammates are. The 88-80 win against Frankfurt was just one of so many games this season where the American has shown his brilliant basketball abilities and the guy is on a mission. Even if he was careful in his choice of words, Walkup is a major competitor and knows exactly where his basketball future is going. ““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”, warned Thomas Walkup. “We have played a lot of games this season and Tom has been a scoring machine in a lot of them. Against Frankfurt he carried the team through the fourth quarter on offense. He showed how big of an impact he can make on a game”, stressed teammate and roommate at road games Adam Waleskowski. Walkup pretty much knows where he wants to go, but first he has to take care of business with the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg before the NBA comes calling.
Thomas Walkup is a 25 year old 193cm shooting guard/small forward that was born in Pasadena, Texas. He played his high school ball at Deer Park and already at a young age had to battle injuries as he suffered two ACL injuries, but he got past these hardships with his dedication and hard work. In his senior year, he averaged 25,9ppg and 8,9rpg. Despite these stellar stats, it seemed like there wasn´t so much interest from division one schools, but he always wanted to play in the NCAA tournament so going to the division 2 was never an option for him. He also didn´t seem to be as confident in his game coming out of high school, but his experience at SF Austin would not only change his mentality, but his game. As a freshman he was still learning the ropes at the NCAA level and wasn´t much of a factor averaging only 4.4ppg, 3.6rpg, 1.3apg. However from his sophomore season until the end, he would make big strides in his game being able to improve his scoring, rebounding, assists and steal percentages each season. One could also see his development and consistency in his last three seasons as he not only scored in double figures 80 times in 131 games, but he won the Southland conference title from 2014-2016 and also garnered the MVP award three times.
He still remembers which was his most fond title today as if it was yesterday. “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”, stressed Thomas Walkup. He really had Houston Baptists number, the only other school to offer him a scholarship as he scorched them on a regular basis netting 35, 34, 27 and 23 points which all resulted in wins. He might of gained his first real recognition in the NCAA as he scored 22 points and had 11 rebounds in an NCAA tournament loss to UCLA in his second season. “ 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”, added Thomas Walkup. Even if the American who lists current San Antonio Spur Kyle Anderson as his toughest foe on the court in the NCAA had been putting up great versatile stats at SF Austin, he still wasn´t really on the national radar simply because he was playing for a lesser known school and in a lesser known conference. However the time when a player usually gets better known is in the NCAA tournament and against big time schools when he produced big games. He saved his best for last in the NCAA pouring in 33 points in an upset win of West Virginia and steering home 21 points in a tough 76-75 loss to Notre Dame ending his NCAA career. Where would Walkup be today if he 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”, added Thomas Walkup. He had a stellar four year career at SF Austin and also remembers who was a big factor to getting him to the professional level. “I did a lot of growing up in school. Coach Underwood brought my game to the next level”, warned Thomas Walkup.
With his NCAA career history, Thomas Walkup made the next step to the professional level in the summer of 2016. Even before the summer arrived he took part at the well known Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (Pre-NBA Draft) playing 3 games averaging 10.3ppg, 5.0rpg, 5.0apg, 1.0sp. It was solid stats, but nothing special, but still NBA teams noticed that there was something special about his game. He got an invite to play at the NBA Pro Summer League in Las Vegas with the Golden State Warriors and in limited duty played 6 games averaging 3.2ppg, 3.5rpg. All in all, it was a disappointing experience as he didn´t shoot the ball well and just being in a setting where it´s always me, me, me from the stand point of most other players, he didn´t feel comfortable and his all around game wasn´t noticed. Ok this was the point where most other players would have understood the hint and taken other options and made the trek overseas, but that didn´t happen. Walkup stayed in the states as all of a sudden NBA teams were interested in adding him to their training camp rosters. At the end of the day it was his sheer versatility and fighting mentality that got him on the radar of NBA teams. It also didn´t hurt him that his game also featured the ability to play many positions at both ends of the court, his basketball IQ and special knack of knowing how to get rebounds. He finally was signed by the Chicago Bulls and participated in 4 pre season games, but was cut and landed with their affiliate in the G-League the Windy City Bulls where he was briefly teammates with German national player Paul Zipser. Walkup remembers his short time with Zipser fondly. “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”, warned Thomas Walkup.. There he got a lot of experience playing 40 games averaging 7.6ppg, 3.9rpg, 3.4apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 53.4%, 3PT: 28.2%, FT: 84.5%. He scored in double figures in 13 games and had a 24 point and seven assist game against Delaware and a 12 point and 12 assist game against Ft Wayne and lost both contests, but who really notices or cares in a league where most are playing for their stats and trying to get noticed with their scoring game. Once again the American saw himself in a place where his game wasn´t as appreciated despite having the versatile game to deserve a chance in the NBA. After a season in the NBA waters, he was diplomatic about his experiences there and wasn´t too concerned about if NBA teams kept that focus and interest after a season. “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“, warned Thomas Walkup.
After a season in the states he did the most logical thing and decided to come to Europe to take on a new challenge and continue to work on developing his game and signed with German team MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. Now 6 months into the season, this decision has proved to have been golden not only for himself, but also the club as it is one of the top 4 teams in the highly competitive EasyCredit BBL and close to reaching the Basketball Champions League Final 4. And Walkup has been a huge reason for the success as in the John Patrick system his overall versatile game has fit in as well as a Luke Sikma has fit into the successful Alba Berlin system. The American doesn´t regret having made this step and discloses the team´s secret to the success. “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. 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”, warned Thomas Walkup. The amazing thing also is that head coach John Patrick needs to get a lot of credit because even with the absence of German national player Thiemann who was lost to the season after a season ending injury in Frankfurt at the end of January, the team accepted this heavy loss, made adjustments and been consistent having a 10-3 record going 6-1 in the BBL and 3-2 in the Basketball Champions League. Not only Walkup and the whole team which is deep and has depth at every position have been big in the success, but also the basketball workaholic head coach John Patrick. He knows what a title feels like as he won the 2010 Eurochallenge with BG Goettingen as they were only one of four German teams ever that have won an international club title and now in his fifth season as head coach in Ludwigsburg and a club that has reached the playoffs each season wants to finally win a title this season. “Coach Patrick 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“, warned Thomas Walkup. The club has great chances of winning the Basketball Champions League if they can continue to play consistent and defend well which they have in six of the last eight games and annoy teams with their unpredictable press play.
If Walkup wants to get to the NBA, Europe has been a great place for him to continue to work on his game and gain that important experience that will help him propel himself back to the states into the best possible position. Walkup came to Germany as a very talented player that would need no adjustment period as his team basketball focus was perfect for the Ludwigsburg game. Walkup compares his own game to NBA player Matthew Dellavedova and for some he is a legitimate BBL MVP candidate. A big strength in his game that might be a little off the radar since his teammates share it, is that need to not depart the floor without a victory. “My winning mentality is a hidden strength. 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”, stressed Thomas Walkup. He does so much for his team on both ends of the floor and without him the club would have lost some games here and there. Currently in the EasyCredit BBL he is averaging 12,5ppg, 4,7rpg, 4,8apg, 1,8spg and is shooting a strong 43% from outside. In the Basketball Champions League, his stats are solid as well as he is averaging 11,1ppg, 4,2rpg, 4,3apg, 1,7spg and is shooting 38,8% from the parking lot. Steals isn´t everything when measuring the talent of a defender, but Walkup has blended into well into the Patrick press defense and has been aided by his teammates, some that have been in the system for years. “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”, added Thomas Walkup. The American also understands where his success in his game has come from this season as it has helped him in his next step in his development in Europe. “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. 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”, warned Thomas Walkup. Not only his game rubs off on his teammates, but also his positive character as he is just the perfect teammate.“ Tom has been a great teammate to play with. I love that he gives 100 percent every time he is on the court. Weather he is tired, having a good or bad game, or we are up or down 20, he is playing at full intensity. Tom has a great basketball mind. Along with being a great scorer, he creates for other players, and is a great rebounding guard as well. He has a great all around game. But he can shoot the lights out of any gym”, warned ex BG Goettingen forward Adam Waleskowski.
In the past, head coach John Patrick has made it a habit to help the BBL in terms of recognition in that he has brought in many ex NBA players to Ludwigsburg in the last 4 years with guys like Coby Karl, Jon Brockman or a Jack Cooley who actually made it back to the big show this season with the Sacramento Kings, but also has helped a Royce O´Neal tweak his game as he is playing for the Utah Jazz now. So why can´t a Walkup continue the trend that O´Neal started and be the next Ludwigsburg player to get to the NBA? A title in the Basketball Champions League would be a big step in that route as he has proved this season with Ludwigsburg that he has the game to deserve a look in the NBA if not next season than the season after as the American who will get big offers in Europe this summer may elect to stay another season overseas. At the moment the Ludwigsburg overall trend to the NBA is high with an ex player with Cooley and a newbie with O´Neal getting the chance so can Thomas Walkup be the next guy getting to the NBA? Even if the NBA is stored far far away in the back of his mind, Walkup has only one major goal and focus at the moment. That is to take care of business in Germany before the NBA comes calling. If NBA or Euroleague or Eurocup in Europe is down the road, his teammate Adam Waleskowski is rooting for him straight from the heart. “Tom is a great player, I hope he gets the opportunity to play at the highest level. If not in the NBA, here in Europe in the Euroleague. He deserves it with all the hard work he has put in”, stressed Adam Waleskowski. Walkup and the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg now really have their backs to the wall having lost the first Basketball Champions League game in Ludwigsburg 86-81 and will have to give the word “taking care of business a new meaning in the return game in Bayreuth. In the loss Walkup had a strong game netting 19 points, getting 5 rebounds, five assists, 3 steals and one block. But his versatile greatness means nothing if they can´t advance in Bayreuth to the Basketball Champions League Final 4. Walkup now has the chance to use his versatility to the fullest in the return game in Bayreuth and help the team advance in their title quest and if he does will be a step closer to immortality with the Ludwigsburg fans without even having won a title for them yet. If he helps Ludwigsburg to a title, then he will be forever in the hearts of MHP Riesen fans and most likely be labeled as one of it´s greatest one season club players ever and have another reason for the NBA to come calling.