It wasn’t hard to notice Thomas Walkup at the New Orleans Pelicans’ predraft workout Monday.
The 6-foot-5 combo guard has a beard that resembles the Dallas Mavericks’ Chandler Parsons’, but it’s not as bushy as what James Harden sports for the Houston Rockets.
He grew the beard throughout his four-year tenure at Stephen F. Austin, making him look something like a Lumberjack — the school’s mascot — on the court.
“SFA is a good program — good culture, player development — and I am all about toughness,” Walkup said. “Working on my game and working hard every day has got me where I am.”
Walkup, a three-year starter at SFA, on Monday showed the work ethic that helped him become the Southland Conference Player of the Year. When the workout wrapped up, he stayed on the court with Oregon State’s Gary Payton II as the pair did shooting drills together. Walkup stayed outside the arc; he understands that most people want to know whether his 3-point range has improved.
Walkup looks back to his junior year at Deer Park High School in Pasadena, Texas; he averaged 10 points that season. If he wanted to play college ball, he knew he had to work hard the summer before his senior year.
The effort paid off with a 26-point scoring average as a senior, and he carried that to SFA, where he became the program’s NCAA Division I-era leader in scoring, rebounding, field goals and games played. As a senior, he averaged 18.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
“Being able to go from a small school and represent my school, I have a huge sense of pride in that sense,” Walkup said. “My intangibles are a key, and toughness. That’s something I can bring that a lot of people can’t — being able to cover the 1-2-3 (guards) and wearing the opposing team’s best player out and guard him for 48 minutes.”
Walkup ranked first nationally in offensive rating last season and was third in Player Efficiency Rating. That efficiency stood out to basketball writer Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports.
“That is incredibly valuable to some teams,” Vecenie said. “He’s going to be the kind of guy that coaches really love and really want to find a way to get on their team. It’s just kind of hard for me to see the fit in the NBA. Maybe he’s just a basketball player, though, that in today’s position-less NBA just kind of works.”
After Walkup did shooting drills on the court Monday, he went into the training room. Minutes later, he walked back on the court practicing his 3-pointers in his light blue and orange Under Armour’s Curry 1s.
He knows most project him to go undrafted, and he hopes to compete in the NBA’s summer league to prove those experts wrong.
“If I don’t get drafted,” he said, “I just plan to tear it up there and hopefully make a roster.”