Brooklyn, New York — One of the major surprises in Thursday night’s NBA draft was that Thon Maker was picked 10th. He’s a former teammate of Jamal Murray and played in Kentucky at Marshall County, McCracken County and Lexington the last two seasons in front of many UK fans who thought he might play college basketball at UK. Instead, he went straight to the NBA. Here’s what he had to say after being picked by Milwaukee.
THE MODERATOR: Thon, if you would start out with an opening statement about what you’ll bring to the Bucks, please.
THON MAKER: A lot. A lot. As a person, first and foremost, just being a great person off the court. I feel like it’s going to affect a lot of people. As a basketball player, length, obviously, joining with the rest of the guys that already have that length, it’s going to be scary. Just — oh, man. Being able to shoot the ball, spread the floor a little bit and take the pressure off the bigs, just competing nonstop at all times, rebounding, blocking shots, being able to pass. It’s a lot of value.
Q. Thon, you mentioned about playing guys with that sort of length. Giannis obviously comes to mind. What do you hope to learn or pick up from a player like that, playing alongside him?
THON MAKER: Just first, how he jumped from that high, like when he first got drafted, everybody was like, oh, he’s too skinny, he’s this and that, he’s not going to do this, and now everybody is looking at him like, oh, he’s next. He’s scary with what he can do with that length. Just picking his mind about what he did to push him that high. Really just picking his mind.
Q. You didn’t get invited to the green room but you’re sitting in the stands. How did it feel to walk past so many guys waiting to get their name called? And were you surprised you were not sitting there among those players invited to sit in on the lottery?
THON MAKER: When I walked past most of the guys in the green room, some of the guys looked at me sideways. Some of the guys I already knew from high school, so we were like friends. So they were happy and some guys gave me dap. And other guys were like, it should be them. I don’t know, if I were in that situation, I would have been like, congrats, you know, you’ve made a step. Now go make a name for yourself. Yeah.
Q. There were some rumors, perhaps misinformation that was thrown about about your age. Did that get back to you and did it anger you? The fact that you might not be 19, that you might be as old as 23? Can you speak to what that was like?
THON MAKER: It did get to me in terms of me hearing about it, but it didn’t get to me personally because if it were true, I’d probably be like sideways about it, but it’s not true, so I’m comfortable. I’m not pissed off or — oh, I’m not angry or anything. (Laughter). I’ve got to learn what I can say and what I can’t say now.
Q. Two years ago in Italy we talked about what you would be kind of at the next level. You’re here. You made the decision to come into this process later than most. What made you think you were ready for the NBA and what do you feel like are some of the skills that are going to translate right away for you, and what do you feel like you’ve got to work on?
THON MAKER: Well, I felt like I could bring — people usually say nowadays that playing hard is the new skill, or having a motor is a new skill. For me it was just always having that work ethic and just continuing to work hard. My skills have always been just work on them, and you never know what you’re going to use them in the game. So just work on them, have them in your pocket, and then when required, use them. Just working.
Q. What are some of the things you feel like you still have to work on?
THON MAKER: Things like ball handling because people don’t expect me to be handling the ball, but look at Green at the 4 position with the Warriors. He’s their new guy bringing the ball up, so it takes the pressure off the other guys because you see the 4 sucked into the paint now, and he’s bringing the ball up. So he’s got, what, 10 feet in front of him when he’s bringing the ball up because the guys are not going to come out there and check him from there because he’s able to handle the ball. So I feel like I need to work on that a little bit more, and shooting the ball consistently, also.
Q. What are your thoughts about playing for the Boomers’ national team and what’s your timetable with that and what kind of commitment do you want to make with them in terms of world championships, Olympics, et cetera?
THON MAKER: Right now, it’s not today, because — in terms of not this Olympic trip. But they’re going to have a good year. I feel like they’re going to have a good year, although they have injuries. But for me personally, it’s going to take some time because I’ve got to get used to this first, and then after that I had already planned on eventually playing for them.
Q. And thoughts, too, you’re the second Australian drafted early by the Milwaukee Bucks; Andrew Bogut 11 years ago. Will you get with him and compare notes about Milwaukee?
THON MAKER: Yeah, that will be cool. That will be cool.
Q. Just take me through your emotions. There was a lot of talk of you going to play college, and then when you declared for the NBA, I’m sure you heard a lot of negativity. Now to be here sitting at No. 10 in the draft, I notice you can’t take a smile off your face right now. Talk about your emotions after everything you’ve kind of gone through.
THON MAKER: It took a long time in a short time period, I can say that, because it’s five years — it’s going six years now. It was five years when I decided I first wanted to be a pro and take basketball serious. So it’s been a long time because I’ve put in a lot of games, a lot of work, and to finally see it pay off, really — I lost words. When I was walking there, trying to say “thank you” to my family, just took lots of words, and I speak with them every day. It was a different situation. Mentally you just can’t wait. Physically you’re trying to control yourself, and at the same time it’s unreal.
Q. I’m sure if you saw the mocks you were all over the place. What would you say to people who kind of questioned them going for you at 10?
THON MAKER: I actually personally never touched up the mocks unless we were in a basketball argument with somebody else. But somebody — other people close by would say, oh, they have you going here. Oh, that’s BS, don’t worry about it. I think you’re this and that. I really didn’t pay attention to the mocks. But for me going 10th, I felt like my workouts, when I did the team workouts, I felt good after a few workouts, and this was one of them. I felt great about this one.
Q. You were born in Sudan when there was a lot of unrest there, then you moved to Australia, then to North America. How much better does this moment feel knowing you’ve been through all of that and having your brother in the audience when you were drafted?
THON MAKER: Oh, man, it was amazing. You notice the guy was trying to rush me with a hat and I had to wait for my brother to come out. He’s next, so it’s very special. Last year I played an extra year just to play with him, alongside him, and that worked out pretty well, and we had fun. At the same time, he’s been watching me and shadowing me all these past two, three years in basketball, and he’s come a long way. He’s so much better, and I’m really happy for him, too. He’s very proud of me. So it’s special.
Q. There’s a growing number of players of African descent in the NBA and even the NBA itself is making strides with connecting with the continent. Do you have any relationships with any of the African players in the NBA?
THON MAKER: Not yet. Not yet, because I’ve met a few guys, and eventually plan on eventually meeting up with them and getting to know them a little bit more, but not yet in terms of personal relationships.
Q. What’s your message to kids like yourself who came from Sudan, maybe those friends of yours who are living in Sydney or Perth or elsewhere, seeing what you’ve achieved?
THON MAKER: Oh, some of them were texting me that they were watching, and they’re having the butterflies. For some reason I didn’t have it before I walked into this building.
I think for them, it’s just work hard, no matter what, and then the biggest thing that you always tell like little, little kids is work on your skills. You never know how tall you’re going to be, you never know how valuable will be. Even though you may grow out of a position, you always want to play.