June 5, 2013

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Basketball took Mike Tobey to the Netherlands, Belgium and France last August. He’s hoping hoops serves as his passport to the Czech Republic this summer.

Tobey, who’s heading into his second year at UVa, is among the 24 players who have accepted invitations to try out this month for the USA Basketball team that will compete at the under-19 world championships, June 27 to July 7 in Prague.

Florida’s Billy Donovan is the team’s head coach. Donovan’s assistants are VCU’s Shaka Smart and a man Tobey knows especially well — Virginia’s Tony Bennett.

“It’s kind of funny that my coach is one of the coaches, but he’s definitely not going to treat me any differently,” Tobey said Tuesday after a workout at John Paul Jones Arena. “If anything he’ll be harder on me.”

UVa faced VCU in a closed scrimmage at JPJ last fall, and Tobey’s play that day impressed Smart.

“Coach said Shaka actually put in a good word for me [with USA Basketball], so that might have helped,” Tobey said.

Bennett has been active in USA Basketball, first as a player and now as a coach. For Tobey, a 6-11 center from Monroe, N.Y., this is all new.

“I didn’t even know there was a team, and then all of the sudden Coach started explaining it to me, saying there was an opportunity to get a tryout, and I was like, `That would be really cool,’ ” Tobey recalled. “I don’t know how it worked out, but I was just excited to get [invited].”

Another Cavalier, rising senior Joe Harris, is one of 29 players who’ll try out for 12 roster spots on the USA Basketball’s World University Games team. Those tryouts begin June 24 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The World University Games are July 5-17 in Kazan, Russia.

Tobey and Bennett will get to Colorado Springs before Harris. The U19 tryouts start June 14 at the U.S. Olympic facility. A 12-player team will be selected. The big men Tobey will battle in camp include three other rising college sophomores — 6-8, 250-pound Robert Carter (Georgia Tech), 6-9, 240-pound Devin Thomas (Wake Forest) and 6-8, 245-pound Shaq Goodwin (Memphis) — as well as Jahlil Okafor, a 6-10, 253-pound rising 12th-grader from Chicago.

“It’s a great opportunity for Mike,” said UVa assistant coach Jason Williford, who works closely with the Cavaliers’ post players. “He put his name in there with some of the best big men in the country. Mike’s got his work cut out, but I think he’ll be up for the challenge.”

So does Anthony Gill, a 6-8 forward who’ll play alongside Tobey in UVa’s frontcourt this season.

“We’re expecting big things from Mike Tobey representing the University of Virginia,” Gill said Tuesday at JPJ.

Tobey said: “For me it’s just an honor to even be asked to try out. I’m going to go in there and definitely try my best. I think I have a pretty good shot. I’m confident about it. There’s always a little bit of nerves, but there’s nothing really you can do. Just go out there and play your best and try to prepare as much as you can.”

Bennett’s advice for his young center? “Just get in the best shape I can,” Tobey said. “Coach Donovan loves to run, so he’s really pushing offensive transition and stuff like that.”

Nearly a year has passed since Tobey, a graduate of Blair Academy in New Jersey, enrolled at the University and began working out with his new teammates. The Cavaliers capped the summer with a trip to Europe, where Tobey averaged 11.2 points in the team’s five games.

He was only 17 then, which meant he was admitted for free to the Louvre in Paris, where Tobey presented his learner’s permit to museum officials as proof of his age.

Tobey had an eventful first season for the Wahoos, who finished 23-12. He broke his nose Dec. 8 against Mississippi Valley State at JPJ, an injury that forced him to wear a protective mask on the court for about a month. Tobey suffered a bigger setback in early February, when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis.

He missed five games before returning Feb. 24 to contribute seven points and four rebounds off the bench in an 82-54 romp over Georgia Tech at JPJ.

For the season, Tobey averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds and helped the `Hoos advance to the NIT quarterfinals. He shot 53 percent from the floor — Tobey was 3 for 5 from beyond the 3-point line — and 79.4 percent from the line. In the regular-season finale against Maryland, Tobey’s basket in the final seconds of the second half forced overtime, where the `Hoos clawed their way to a 61-58 victory.

His season highs: 19 points (against Wofford), seven rebounds (three times) and three blocked shots (twice). In UVa’s final game, against Iowa in the NIT, Tobey totaled 15 points, six boards and three blocks in 22 minutes off the bench.

“I thought it was pretty successful,” Tobey said of his freshman season. “There was a lot of ups and downs. The mono didn’t help. But I thought I finished well.”

Tobey averaged 13.9 minutes per game in 2012-13, a figure that undoubtedly would have been higher had he not gotten sick. Nobody will be shocked if he earns a starting job in 2013-14.

“He was pretty efficient when he was in there,” Williford said. “He was productive. That illness, most people don’t get that in the middle of the season. That’s a soon-as-you-get-to-school type of illness, and him getting it when he got it, I thought it just hurt us and hurt him. But he bounced back.”

Tobey said: “I probably wasn’t in peak shape when I finished the year, but I felt like I was getting better as it was going on.”

After final exams ended last month, Tobey went home to New York to see his family. He returned to Charlottesville on May 25 to train for the USA Basketball tryouts. All of UVa’s players, including incoming freshmen Devon Hall and London Perrantes, will be in town by this weekend.

“This is a huge summer for Mike,” Williford said. “To compete against that caliber of players [for USA Basketball], we got our fingers crossed that he makes the team. If he makes it I think it boosts his confidence. But just being in that environment, just seeing how hard you gotta play, how hard you gotta compete every possession, will help him.”

Tobey played at about 240 pounds in 2012-13. Mike Curtis, UVa’s strength-and-conditioning coach for basketball, would like to get him to 255 by the start of the coming season. Tobey still looks lean, but he said Tuesday that he weighs about 245.

“I don’t know where it’s all going, because I really don’t feel any bigger,” he said, smiling. “I guess it’s in my legs or something.”

The extra weight hasn’t slowed him down. “If anything,” Tobey said, “I feel a lot stronger and a lot more explosive.”

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