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NBA, G-League & International Athlete Thon Maker

I had the chance recently to talk to one of our great international basketball athletes to make it out of Perth, Australia and into the NBA, something very few have done from this state. Thon Maker was drafted into the NBA in 2016, selected in the first round at pick number ten by the Milwaukee Bucks. After three years with the Bucks playing alongside some great talent such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and making into to the 2018 playoffs, Thon went on to play a year for the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2019 & 2020 retrospectively). Thon's most recent assignment has been for the NBA G-League's, Long Island Nets where has been playing great basketball and finding his rhythm back. I had the pleasure of spending a month back in with Thon, Makur and Matur Maker training during the offseason in Irvine, California whilst helping and learning from my great friend and renown basketball trainer Jordan Lawley. Seeing first hand the work Thon puts in and the way he goes about his craft and business, I know he will be a valuable asset and successful person no matter where he goes. Enjoy the short Q&A below!

Thon Maker, No.10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks

Life circumstances and then your pursuit for basketball have seen you move around the world a lot from a young age. How have you found that, and how do you think that has helped you with being adaptable and resilient?

"I've enjoyed travelling the world and meeting new people, seeing amazing places and it's definitely helped me to adjust in any given situation I'm put in. The game of basketball has given me so many great experiences that I could not have dreamed of as a kid. It's come with its challenges of course but each experience has shaped me into a better person and added maturity from a young age!"

Professional basketball is a business and often it can be tough when you see that first hand. How do you deal with the stresses of the business side of sport? When all you want to do is play the game you love at the highest level.

"There's many ways to deal with stress. For me I spend time with my family and friends to help clear my mind. Sometimes I take a step back for a day or two to reset. I also enjoy watching a movie or any non basketball related show to balance up my activities. I watch so much basketball sometimes that people who've just met me and don't know me, don't want to be around me, lol."

You spent the majority of your childhood growing up in Perth, Western Australia. How did you find those early years as a kid and what do you remember most about that time in your life?

"Growing up in Perth was a lot of fun! I enjoyed playing soccer as a kid but mostly enjoyed hooping at Herb Graham Recreation Centre as well as the outdoor basketball games at Girrawheen, they were a huge character builder for me. I remember a lot from those years, trying to get into Herb Graham through the back door because we couldn't afford the $4 entrance fee. The cashier lady Judie would come in and kick us out and after the 5th time trying she would let us stay the rest of the night and play. I also remember the countless bus rides with friends and if we couldn't afford it we would walk everywhere instead, from Koondoola to Girrawheen, to Mirrabooka and Balga. Amazing times!"

You’ve suited up for Australia in the green and gold a number of times. What has that experience been like for you and is it something on your goal list to do again?

"Playing for Basketball Australia was a lot of fun and excitement. I grew up watching those guys playing at the World Championships and the Olympics and I definitely want to represent the green and gold again at the world level. I love trophies, rings and shiny things and to be a part of that one day would be lovely."

The NBL has grown a lot in the past couple of years and this year you have your brother Matur and your cousin Makur playing for the Sydney Kings. Looking at the Australian league from overseas, what would you say about the competition and is it a place you would like to play at some point in the future?

"The NBL has definitely caught the eyes and attention of the basketball fans around the world and it has taken huge leaps in recent years. I've watched nearly all the Kings games this year with my brother Matur and cousin Makur being in the squad. What's crazy is I actually almost came back home and played there last year! Things didn't work out but all three of us wanted to come home for a year. I haven't been back in Australia since 2017/18 and I definitely miss my family , friends and team mates. Playing back in Australia definitely isn't out of reach, I love this game so much I'd play anywhere!"

Your most recent position with the Long Island Nets in the NBA G-League sees you under a well known Australian coach in Adam Caporn. How has your relatively short time so far been with his program and team?

"'Capes' is my guy man! I truly enjoyed playing for him with the Long Island Nets in my most recent stint, and with Basketball Australia at the World Cup Qualifiers a few years back. He's a great human being first and cares a lot about everyone on the roster, along with great leadership qualities. He was a reason for me joining the team and having an opportunity to play the game the right way whilst also having fun again! It's a well run organisation, props to 'Capes', general manager Matt Riccardi and their staff! They have a system that works and that's why we were able to go on an eight game winning streak and make the playoffs."

What is your most favourite memory of basketball so far in your lifetime?

"My favourite memory of basketball would have to be the NBA draft process. I enjoyed seeing the smiles on my family and friends faces, it was such a surreal moment! Close to that memory would be playing in the NBA Playoffs in my first 2-3 years, there isn't anything quite like playoffs basketball. I love big moments like that and my type of play rises to another level. Sometimes that competitor in me takes over and I can't control the switch at that stage, it gets stuck on high energy and I get this fire inside to do whatever it takes to win. Playing hard on defence, talking trash, blocking shots, rebounding, scoring the ball, passing and all of that stuff, just at another level! I've been working on trying to bring that same intensity to the regular season the past few years and I've learned that the first step is remaining healthy and playing mentally free and playing the right way."

If you didn’t have a career in sport, what career path would you most likely have followed otherwise?

"I probably would have done mechanical engineering as that was exactly where my mind was growing up. I also loved soccer however I outgrew that sport pretty fast. Now I am also into the tech business, something which was also a love of mine growing up. My sister Hne-Wea and I have developed a new app named Bread. It's such a great app, allowing brands and influencers to collaborate using their social media platforms. We are launching it in May but it is available for download now on the AppStore. There were a lot of pathways I could have taken for my career other than basketball as I took pride in my education, something that certainly is a priority in the Maker family!"

What has been the biggest hurdle/struggle you have had to overcome so far in your journey?

"The biggest hurdle I have been through would probably be going from playing around sixty games per year in high school and AAU, to sitting on the bench as a rookie and so on. That was a tough experience but I learned to find ways to overcome that by doing extra work before practice, before games and in the offseason. People may look at that and see it is something trivial, but it wasn't for me because the game is all about flow and rhythm, and if you're not playing at the same level then it is tough to stay in rhythm. It wasn't hard for me to adjust from a star to a roll player because I have always played the game for the right reason and that is to win. This was also the reason I travelled overseas this year and back to America to play in the G-League; I wanted to get my rhythm back!"

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?

"My advice to my younger self would be to gain a better understanding of the game from an earlier age by asking former players and veterans in the league. I believe that would have made the transition coming in a lot smoother. No matter how much we think we know there is always someone older who has been through what we are going through or about to go through, and maybe even more so. It's invaluable listening to people that have been through the process because it is true what they say, "Experience is the best teacher." I find myself now talking to younger boys and girls and giving them advice. While some battle with the process of taking in advice, most of those whom accept it, notice the change and see the results. I'm an NBA veteran now at 25 (lol) but it's still unreal to me seeing what I have achieved in such a short time, and whilst I visualise where I will be in ten years from now, I can say that I love my life!"


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