This season is Zalgiris Kaunas guard Thomas Walkup's third of professional basketball and his first in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Born in Pasadena, Texas, Walkup graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University and started his professional career with the Windy City Bulls of the G-League. He came to Europe in the summer of 2017 and was an all-around contributor for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg of Germany. Walkup was chosen to the All-German League first team last season after averaging 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 38 games. Now he is quickly becoming a fan favorite at Zalgirio Arena. Walkup will check in this season from time to time by blogging here on EuroLeague.net to tell us about life in Lithuania and how Zalgiris is trying to build on last season's success.
I am extremely blessed to be in the EuroLeague in this situation and given this opportunity. When you think about the fact that only very few players get to be in the EuroLeague, it makes me feel really excited. I worked really hard to get to this point in my career, realizing that I play this game at a high level, and not for just any team, but for Zalgiris Kaunas. I knew from a very, very early stage that people are extremely serious about basketball in Lithuania. We get great support from our community, even when we play on the road. We always have fans in the stands and it is always fun to play in front of fans who are so passionate about basketball and their club. You can't help but get wrapped up and play with that passion. It is really something incredible to be a part of.
I get to play in the best arena in Europe, too, Zalgirio Arena is truly amazing; the first time I saw it, I was blown away. People on TV see the atmosphere in our games - the lights, the sound - but what people don't see is also great. You have everything that you will ever need right there. It is such a great opportunity to get better every single day because you have the training tables to keep you healthy, a full weight room with a great coaching staff and then your own personal practice court. There is never an excuse to not get in the gym or not lift weights because it is all there to help you improve your game and your body. This is a luxury, not everybody in Europe has it, so we are very thankful for that. A sauna, ice bath... it is all there for you to take care of yourself. It is something that we, as a club, are blessed to have.
"If we can play at home the way we did on the road, with that kind of toughness and attention to detail, I think we are going to be really tough to beat at home."
There is one important rule: there is a Zalgiris logo on the floor of our locker room and no-one can step on it without paying a price. If you do, you have to do a little bit of workout - 10 push-ups! There are a couple of reporters who came in and didn't know the rule and had to do 10 push-ups right in front of us. You have to respect the logo!
I just played my first game in Athens, against Panathinaikos at OAKA and we won in overtime. It was incredible and a huge win for the club. I think it was a very big win for us as a team because that was kind of the first game in which we really had to band together and fight through some real adversity to come away on top. We faced adversity when we played against Fenerbahce and they made a second-half run, but we didn't respond how we needed to. And then against PAO, they made a run and we responded to it, kept ourselves under control and weathered the storm. I think it was a huge win for us, not only in the standings, but for growing as a team. At the end of regulation, I missed a shot, but Brandon Davies tipped it in to force overtime. I think we had 3-4 offensive rebounds on that play, so it was a great team effort by us to realize that we were down and had to do anything to get this ball through the rim.
We have played four EuroLeague games so far and have lost twice at home and won twice on the road. To be honest, I cannot really say why that is. I think that a good foundation for a team is one that can win on the road, but we obviously had a good performance at home in the EuroLeague. If we can play at home the way we did on the road, with that kind of toughness and attention to detail, I think we are going to be really tough to beat at home. We have a good chance to prove that against Real Madrid, which is obviously a great test for us. I am looking forward to playing against them, the EuroLeague champions. It is a good chance for us to bind together and have a full team effort and try to come away with a win.
I felt really comfortable in that Panathinaikos game; you never think that you are going to play a perfect game, but I think I played well. Throughout the EuroLeague season, I think there is going to be so much learning for me to do, and that is one of my favorite parts of me being here in Zalgiris; I get to learn from 'Saras'. He has done an incredible job of helping and teaching and getting me ready for a full EuroLeague season, which is not an easy step. Yes, I am ready to take it, but there are a lot of great people around me that are willing to help me learn. I had a great relationship with my former coach, JP [John Patrick at Ludwigsburg] and I feel very, very fortunate that we got to spend a year together. I have great respect for him and what he did in Ludwigsburg.
"The best thing about 'Saras' as a coach is how he sees the game."
I have been very fortunate in my time in Europe to play for some really good coaches. The best thing about 'Saras' as a coach is how he sees the game. I think that maybe a lot of good players become coaches and it is hard for them to explain what they see and how they want things to be done, but for 'Saras', it is crystal clear what he wants to see and also why. I feel like I have learned this season how to read defenses, how to read pick-and-rolls, just because of how he sees them and explains them. I am very fortunate to be in Zalgiris in this stage of my career and still be learning!
I cannot wait for our next home game against Real Madrid! It is like a party in Zalgirio Arena! It is truly incredible. I cannot even explain how much fun it is to run up there in front of 16,000 people yelling and screaming. We are looking forward to playing in front of the best fans in Europe. Not every team has that luxury, playing in front of a packed house every night. We are truly lucky to have fans like the Zalgiris faithful. So, Zalgiris fans - keep being loud! The reason this thing works is because of the support our fans give us. Everything that we do is for them and we appreciate everything that they do for us!