If Valencia Basket fans were not sure that their new guard Matt Thomas was a first-rate sharpshooter, they certainly found out early, when he broke all records in the three-point contest at the Spanish Supercup tournament. In just his second pro season, Thomas joins Valencia – a title favorite whenever it plays the 7DAYS EuroCup – for his pan-European debut and blogs for Eurocupbasketball.com this season about taking his game to more and more countries. "My dream," is how he describes it.
I just played my first EuroCup game, and since I am new to the competition, I guess the right thing to do is to introduce myself. My name is Matt Thomas. I grew up in a small city, Onalaska, Wisconsin. Onalaska has a population of just under 20,000 people. I have an older brother, Tony, and a younger sister, Josie. My mom is my rock and has been with me every step of the way. One day I hope to give her half of what she has given me. When I was 11 years old, I lost my dad to suicide. At the time it was hard to wrap my head around the circumstances, but I knew I lost my dad. That moment brought our family together. To this day, we remain extremely close. I have so much support back in the Onalaska and LaCrosse, Wisconsin area, and I stay in touch with my friends that I grew up with the best I can. When I was young, I played pretty much every sport – American football, soccer, baseball, basketball and golf... As I got older, probably in middle school, football and basketball were my two favorties. When I got to high school, basketball became my main focus, and I played golf in the spring, as well, when I wasn't competing in AAU events. As a freshman I was only 5-foot-9 and weighed 135 pounds, but then I had a growth spurt the summer leading into my sophomore year. I got bigger and stronger, and starting being recruited to play college basketball. I decided to stay close to home and go to Iowa State, which is a three-hour drive from my hometown. I played there for four years and made many memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. During my time at Iowa State I experienced a lot adversity and had many ups and downs, both on and off the courth, all of which has shaped me into the player and person I am today.
"I have to continue to take things day by day, work hard and enjoy this journey."
After I graduated, I played in the NBA Summer League with the Lakers and that went really well. Kobe Bryant is my favorite player and I grew up a Lakers fan, so it was a neat experience for me. We won the Summer League in Las Vegas but I had a decision to make – whether to go play in Spain for Obradoiro or go to training camp and try to make the Lakers roster. If you don't make the team, you are kind of stuck and have to play in the G-League. That is something I was not really interested in; I preferred to start my career in Europe. As a kid growing up in the United States, I've always wanted to play in the NBA, but it was also a dream for me to play professional basketball abroad, to get out of my comfort zone and see the world. I had a great experience as a rookie in the Spanish League. It was a great opportunity for me to play in such a high-level league as a rookie that I wanted to take advantage of it. One day, I hope to go back to the States and play in the NBA if the situation is right for me. Until then, I am going to continue to take things day by day, work hard and enjoy my time in Valencia.
It is funny, when I was in college, we actually took a foreign trip between my sophomore and junior years. We came to Spain for 10 days, so I was in the country before I started to actually live here. That was also my first time ever out of the United States. We went to Barcelona, Madrid and also Valencia, so I had a little bit of a background before I came over here last year. Obviously, being able to fulfill my dream, playing basketball for a living, is great. But being able to see the world and experience things that a lot of my friends and family aren't able to do is something I don't take for granted. It also gives my family and friends the opportunity to come and experience it for themselves when they visit me, which is awesome. I am looking forward to having people visit this year and showing them Valencia. I am excited to be able to play in the EuroCup this season and having the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. It is going to be eye-opening for me and I am looking forward to it.
I will also be able to see and catch up with some of my former Iowa State teammates playing in the EuroCup. I played with Dustin Hogue in college, and he is now with Trento, in our same regular season group. I also played with Melvin Ejim, who plays for UNICS Kazan. Then, one of my former teammates from last year in Obradoiro, Eimantas Bendzius, went back to Lithuania and is now with Rytas Vilnius. I have a couple of other former teammates and friends who are in the EuroLeague. DeAndre Kane is still with Maccabi; I played with him for a year. I missed Will Clyburn of CSKA by one year, and the same with Chris Babb, who went to the EuroCup Finals last season. They graduated a year before I got to school, but I know them from recruiting visits and whatnot. It is cool to follow those guys as well as my friends who are in the NBA and G league and see how much success they are all having. I really enjoy doing that!
"This is my dream – and exactly what I signed up for!"
Like I said, we already played our first Eurocup game against ASVEL and got our first win. They started the game hot and then we kind of settled down. Playing at home always helps, having your fans behind you. We played really well in the second half. The EuroCup, as a whole, is really challenging, there is a lot of talent on every team. Being just my second year in Europe, I am still learning every day and getting more and more familiar with European basketball. It is going to be new for me playing in different countries this season. From what I've experienced and heard, every country has a different style of play, so getting used to that is something that I have to get adjusted to.
I believe that pressure is external, and individually you can make a decision to let it impact you or not. My teammates and I put in the work every day to make sure we are both mentally and physically ready to perform at our highest level, so there is no reason for us to feel pressure. In every game, I feel that the team I'm on can beat anyone. As a competitor, you have to have that type of confidence to succeed. This year in Valencia, I am playing for a more competitive team that has had a lot of success in the past. I hope I can help our club continue that, get as many wins as possible, and win titles.
Before the season started, I had a great time participating in the Spanish League's three-point contest. I found a rhythm early and never really got out of it. In every round, I was expecting to miss two or three shots in a row because it happens. But it didn't happen to me that night. The event took place in Santiago and the Obradoiro fans received me well, which meant a lot to me. It was special to win in front of my former teammates and coaches. I was in several three-point competitions when I was younger and my best score was maybe 23 or 24. Having 27, 27 and 26 in three consecutive rounds is something I probably won't be able to repeat. As a player, with my ability to shoot and score the ball, I usually get labelled as a shooter. However, all my life I have worked on all aspects of my game. I am looking forward to showing what I can do this season on a bigger stage.
My first EuroCup road trip will be to Ankara, Turkey to play against Turk Telekom. I was playing one game a week last season and now I will be able to play a lot more. More games and less practice is a schedule I think every basketball player can get behind! There will be more road trips and long flights, but this is my dream – and exactly what I signed up for! I am looking forward to playing against some of the top competition in all of Europe. This season, I will able to see and do things that I never imagined possible when I was a kid, so I have to enjoy every step of the way!