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Thon Maker wants to play for Australia

MILWAUKEE (FIBA Asia Cup 2017) - The word "new" is applicable in many ways for Australia's Boomers.

The team will have a new experience this year when it competes in the FIBA Asia Cup for the first time. There are also new players, NBA talents even, that are finding their way into the national side.

One of those is Thon Maker, the Sudan-born big man who moved to Australia and grew up Down Under before continuing his basketball education in Canada.

Now, he's in his first season with the Milwaukee Bucks and a teammate of Australia veteran Matthew Dellavedova, the starting point guard of the national team. Maker has yet to don the Australia shirt but eventually will. It's high on his priority list.

"Yes, definitely," he said to FIBA.com. "I want to say that I proudly represent a country, play for the national team and perform. Basketball is fun and competitive, and when you move it to the international level, it even means a lot more. I want to be on that stage, on the world stage. I want the world to see that you represent your country and that you represent it very well."

Having a good career in the NBA will help him achieve the aim of playing for the Boomers. Minutes had been sparse for Maker until the past four games, when he's averaged 17.5mpg.

The last three of those contests ended up wins for the Bucks with Maker's numbers - 7.5ppg and 4.5rpg - evidence, at least statistically, that he 's adjusting to the high level of the league.

"Delly has been a great help for me," he said. "Since I started getting more minutes, he always tells me that he is here for me and that he has my back." - Maker

"Things are going well for me so far," Maker said. "Trying to get better every single day is what I expected and that is what’s happening. My playing time is growing now and I want to play well and have fun on the court."

Part of the 2.16m Maker's repertoire is the jump shot, and not just from mid-range. Maker confidently takes, and makes 3-pointers, a talent that will have a major impact for the Bucks and Boomers.

He has drilled 16 of his 32 attempts on the season. If Maker can consistently hit his 3-pointers, he will open up the floor for his teammates like Greece international Giannis Antetokounmpo to get to the basket.

Having the 26-year-old Dellavedova on his team has helped Maker, who elected not to play college basketball, with his transition to the professional game from high school.

"Delly has been a great help for me," he said. "Since I started getting more minutes, he always tells me that he is here for me and that he has my back. He is really a vocal leader, a mature guy and he is a champion. I learn a lot from him. He knows how to win. I ask him a lot of questions on and off the court. He is not that old, but he is a great veteran."

Dellavedova, an NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season before signing with the Bucks as a free agent, was arguably the best point guard at the Olympics in the Preliminary Round. Maker watched the Boomers on television and saw the high and lows, including their heartbreaking, 89-88, Bronze Medal Game defeat to Spain.

Maker's Milwaukee teammate, Dellavedova, played at the Rio Games

"I watched all the games they played at the Olympics and they played very well," Maker said. "It was probably the last competition for some players, and they pushed to win. The group of guys played really hard and we, the group of guys who are coming up now, just got to pick it up from there."

Australia have done a good job of keeping in touch with him, he says, and other emerging talents like Dante Exum of Utah and Ben Simmons of Philadelphia.

"The potential is great," Maker said. "As NBA players, things are harder. We have a busy schedule to follow and as a rookie, it is even harder.

"The national teams wants the players to do appearances and go here and there, and on the other side, the NBA franchise wants you to do things to get better as a rookie.
"Basketball Australia knows it, and the federation gives me the freedom to decide that ‘whenever I am ready, here is our schedule. When you are ready to make that move, go ahead.'"

Australians are tuning in to watch their players in the NBA and it fueling hopes of a golden generation in Asia and even on the bigger stages of the FIBA Basketball World Cup and the Olympics. There is plenty to be excited about, especially when a player like Maker is likened to the great Kevin Garnett.

"When people compare me to him, that is big because he is a future Hall-of-Famer," Maker said. "He was an amazing player, an NBA champion. He was a winner, he played hard, always wanted to win and played with passion. He respects the game, and I respect the game, too.

"I respect him as a player and as a person. He is one of the all-time greatest alongside guys like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. They all play the game with a purpose, and that is what I want to do, too. I want to play with passion every single night."