Thomas Walkup is adding to his trophy cabinet, and his vocabulary.
On Monday, the former Stephen F. Austin star helped lead Žalgiris Kaunas to the Lithuanian League (LKL) title, taking home Most Valuable Player honors in the process. Walkup averaged 14.3 points, 6 assists and 3.6 rebounds over the three-game sweep of Rytas Vilnius in the finals, and becomes just the fifth American to take home award.
More importantly, he showed off his Lithuanian chops as fans greeted him with “MVP” chants outside Žalgiris’ arena in the city of just under 300,000.
Okay, so maybe Walkup isn’t fluent in Lithuanian, or at least not showing it there. But his effort — he said “thank you,” “hello,” and some word I nor my Lithuanian-speaking mother could pick out — was clearly appreciated by his teammates.
The faux-shock, like the below, was tremendous.
Walkup carved out a nice professional career with the European power. He just completed his third year at Žalgiris, where the point guard was a key part of the rotation and the team’s leader in minutes per game during the LKL playoffs.
Last June, he talked about Žalgiris with our own Russell Steinberg on his All The Years podcast.
“It’s a EuroLeague team with unbelievable fans, an unbelievable coaching staff and front office. It’s a really great situation that I feel lucky to be in,” Walkup said. “I’m learning a lot, which at 27 and in my fourth year professionally, to still be learning, I don’t take that for granted. I’m really happy overseas.”
At the time, the 2020-21 LKL season had just been cancelled due to the pandemic, but Walkup had said he was excited for how the team looked for the 2021-22 campaign. The team featured fellow Americans Augustine Rubit (South Alabama), Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin) and Steve Vasturia (Notre Dame), a quartet which teamed with NBA vet Joffrey Lauvergne and a host of Lithuanians to win yet another title.
Žalgiris is the cream of the crop domestically in the small, basketball-obsessed Baltic nation, notching its 10th consecutive LKL title with the win on Monday. The team also holds one of the 11 coveted long-term licenses in the EuroLeague, finishing this season in 11th place (out of 18) with a 17-17 record and missing the playoffs.
Walkup, however, was not out of place in highest professional league outside the NBA, putting up a solid stat line (8.2 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.0 RPG) as the team’s leading playmaker. And as should be no surprise to those that watched him spearhead the Lumberjack’s potent defensive attack, he won the LKL’s defensive player of the year award.
His Lithuanian, however, may soon get rusty.
According to Eurohoops.net, Walkup is set to sign a two year contract (with an additional one-year extension option) with Olympiacos, another EuroLeague power. He was reportedly in high demand, with Žalgiris unsurprisingly interested in keeping him and reigning Euro League champion Anadolu Efes eager to bring him to Istanbul.
As he moves to Greece, the three-time Southland Tournament MVP brings with him more tournament hardware, an already-tremendous professional career and — at a minimum — a few words of Lithuanian.