Thomas Walkup, Zalgiris: 'We have to give everything'

Mar 28, 2019 by Thomas Walkup - Kaunas, Lithuania Print
Thomas Walkup, Zalgiris: 'We have to give everything'

We have been playing really well lately. Maybe it took us a little longer than we hoped for us to figure it out, but I think we finally figured it out. We believe and our supporters believe can we can make it to the playoffs. This is how we are going to go in these last two games in the EuroLeague regular season. We are going to try to make that happen. We will play against Olympiacos and Real Madrid on the road, which means we played all of our 15 home games already. Our last home game against Darussafaka was a big basketball celebration. You could tell as soon as you walked into the arena that it was going to be like a party atmosphere. Everybody was so excited! It was like a celebration of our season and we got unbelievable support from our fans. That was one of my favorite atmospheres we had at home this year.

Those who never came to a Zalgiris home game in the EuroLeague should come here and experience it. It is extremely hard for any opponent to play here. The fans are loud, it is hostile in there and for an opposing team to come out and try to play not really being able to communicate is very difficult for them. It is huge for us to play at home. The pre-game show is great, too. The Viking clap and the national anthem are my two favorite parts. I get the chills when any of these two things happen and they happen often, pre-game. For whatever reason, these two things really make the hair on my arms stand up. It is a special feeling.

"We are 100% focused and know how important this game is."

Speaking of great atmospheres, our last road win was against Maccabi in Tel Aviv. It was my first time playing there and behind us, I would say that this is probably the second-best atmosphere in the EuroLeague; it was amazing. Obviously, Saras had a nice welcoming home there and it was a back-and-forth game. There were a lot of runs in that game and it was a very emotional one. Their fans were very, very involved and it was a very fun environment to play in. It was nice to see other spots in the EuroLeague that have such great support.

We play against Olympiacos in Greece this week. It is never easy to play there and we are not going into this game lightly, either. We are 100% focused and know how important this game is. We will treat it like it is the most important game of the season. We have treated our last few games like that; it is our focus on how to approach the games. I don't think it is any secret – as long as we go into the game with that sort of intensity and that sort of focus, we are going to put ourselves in a good position to win the game. Most of our players beat Olympiacos on the road in a playoff game last year. Anytime we go somewhere, it is nice to know what to expect. For the older guys on our team, to be able to talk to the young guys and say "this is what it is going to be like, and this is what happened last year" is important and helps the young guys a lot. I think that our veterans have done a really good job of that throughout the year.

I have almost played a full EuroLeague season with Zalgiris and I have to say that the intensity and the skill level exceeded my expectations. Every single night is an absolute dogfight and I think that is also what I love about the EuroLeague. There are no off nights, no off days and if you don't bring it, you are going to get your teeth kicked in. The competitiveness in each and every game shocked me a little bit, but I have also learned a lot about it. I love the fighting attitude that this league has – even eliminated teams are winning games lately. That is why I am so excited to be a part of it. I love the format and the home-and-away schedule. I think it is cool to be able to go to every single arena and see the different environments around Europe.

"A game like this goes down to who wants it more."

There are three open playoff spots and seven teams fighting for them. It is crazy! It is a testament to how deep this league is. There are so many teams that could actually qualify, it makes it really, really fun to be one of those teams and feel the excitement. Every game is so important now and it is fun to be a part of it. After the game, everybody checks the other scores to see what is happening around the league and how it affects us. Everybody tracks on their own.

We know Olympiacos is strong at home, but a game like this goes down to who wants it more. In games in which there is so much on the line, like this one, I think it comes down to the little things in the game. We are ready for that. We know how much is on the line here and there is no time for anything other than having 14 players on our team ready to give everything to win this game. That is the mindset of every single player in our team; we have to give everything we have to win this game.

At the beginning of the season, I knew it was the best decision for me to play the EuroLeague with Zalgiris Kaunas. Seven months later, I have to say it was an incredible season. I am extremely happy here with the situation that I have been put in. I know that a lot of players would like to be in my shoes! I absolutely love it here. I love the city, I love the fans and I feel very fortunate to be in this situation.