The Milwaukee Bucks surprised everyone when they selected Thon Maker with the 10th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The South Sudanese-Australian big-man was viewed as an intriguing project with a lot of upside who could contribute to an NBA roster in a couple of seasons time.
However, pretty much everyone outside of the Buck forgot one thing – the kid is one of the most mentally strong young talents in the league and is a guy who’s willing to work his butt off.
At the halfway point of this NBA season, Maker has gone from playing sparing minutes in garbage time to finding his way to the starting unit and is averaging 17 minutes per game in his seven starts.
Before his last game before the All-Star Break, Believe The Hype caught up with Maker to have a chat about his transition so far this season from straight outta high school to the NBA, the South Sudanese Australian basketball community, coaching at Basketball Without Borders at All-Star Weekend and more.
Check it out.
Thon, you’ve got All-Star Weekend coming up, off to Basketball Without Boarders. For being a guy who took part in BWB last year, to now being one of the coaches, what does it mean to you to give back to those kids and the program?
It’s really cool, it’s really awesome. Some of the players, if not all of them have aspirations to get to the league. So it’s really good for me to go out there and let them know what it takes to get here and the type of work you’ve got to put in to get here.
With that as well, going from Basketball Without Boarders last year, in high school, to then make the jump to the pro’s. I guess, so far what’s been the hardest part of that transition for you?
For me, early on it was just going from playing a lot to not playing much. I’ve been in that situation in High School before so I just adjusted right away but then now it’s picked up so I’m comfortable where I am.
Yeah that’s one thing that a lot of guys always talk about. Because you’re always the star on your team before the NBA. You’re always playing big minutes. Then to go through that transition to the pro’s and not playing a lot of minutes initially…
Yeah. But if you’re mentally strong you’re going to go through it and you’re going to look at it as a positive because you’re getting better on your game, working on your body and all of a sudden you’re playing and you see the results and you should be proud of yourself, but also keep it going.
Speaking of what you’re saying just then, what’s the part of the game that you’ve really been working on the most to try and get ready for your NBA career? Is it your physique, or an on the court thing?
Ah, both. Physique and just working on my strength. The weight is going to get there. We’re taking our time with that. We’re not in a rush. The on-court stuff is really important to me. I take my craft really seriously and I work on all aspects of the game. In high school you’re not used to getting a lot of reps with your shots and stuff. You don’t have a lot of rebounders like we do at this stage so that’s been the biggest thing I’ve taken advantage of. You know, we have coaches 24/7 and never leave the gym. If you come to the practice facility at midnight, you’ll see their cars parked out there!
So I’ve taken advantage of it and it’s paying off. I’ve worked on my shot a lot. The next phase is putting it on the floor when they close out hard and just reading the game.
For you coming to the US for High School and then moving to Canada as well, spending time with the Smith family who took you and your brother in as your guardians… Since you’ve been in the NBA have your parents had any chance to come over and see you yet?
Not yet. Some things are in the works concerning that, but not yet.
If they come over that’d be great.
Are you going to head back and see them soon? Because it’s been a while since you’ve seen them.
That’s something I want to try. I went two summers ago, back to Melbourne. But if we can get them here, like I say, we’re working on it. But at the time me going back there is a bit tough with my rookie year. I spoke to the team and usually a part of their development is having the rookies here during the summer. So maybe on weekdays have you here with the coaches and then on weekends you can go wherever. You know an Australian trip is going to need more than just a weekend!
Yeah it’s not like it’s just around the corner in Philly or something.
Yeah! So it’s something that may take a little bit of time.
You were the second South Sudanese-Australian drafted into the NBA. The other one was Ater Majok. Do you know much about Ater’s story at all?
Yeah. I know quite a bit of him from back home and he trained with my coach as well when he first came out so that’s my connect right there.
With him being a Sudanese refugee to Australia, and then getting drafted to the NBA, for guys like yourself and the rest of the South Sudanese basketball community in Australia, how much of an effect was that for you guys to be like “hey, there’s a pathway for me to get to the NBA and fulfill my dream”?
Well, there’s a lot of talent right there in Australia, especially with Sudanese kids.
I’m a big Longhorns guy.
Yeah, that program they have a lot of kids there too. But all over Australia there’s a lot of them. The college rout is their biggest opening right now and they’re just looking for an opportunity or a coach to come by and help them get there. But for them to see us get up here also, now that broadens their eyes and now they’re like “all right, there’s a bigger picture” and they can get ready for that.
A couple of quick questions before we finish up. Firstly, rookie hazing. Has there been any rookie hazing so far? How have the guys been treating you?
There hasn’t really been any rookie hazing. I mean, I’ve got the backpack. Me and Patrick (from Spongebob) get on really well. We haven’t had any problems. They’re all a bunch of good guys. Hazing is nothing we do here as a regular thing.
Who’s the hardest player you’ve matched up on so far?
On other teams?
Yeah on other teams. Because obviously Giannis would be a hard match-up in training.
Haha, yeah. This is a helping game, when you play you’ve got a lot of help so you rarely get a lot of one-on-one match-ups.
Last question, what’s your favorite thing about Milwaukee, the city, so far?
Probably the food. I eat a lot so probably the food. There’s a different restaurant around the corner everywhere. Breakfast spots, diners. There’s a lot of food places to go.
That’ll help you bulk up too, all that food!
Yeah, I love it! Haha.
Cheers, thanks very much Thon.