Aug. 1, 2013
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The final session of summer school at UVa ends this week, and Mike Tobey, for one, is ready for a break.
Two months after he cut short his stay at home and returned to Charlottesville to train for USA Basketball’s under-19 team trials, Tobey is about to head back to Monroe, N.Y., for a few weeks of R&R.
This time last summer, the 6-11 center was preparing for a five-game swing through the Netherlands, Belgium and France with the Cavaliers. Then came Tobey’s first year at UVa and his first season of college basketball, a roller-coaster ride that included a broken nose and a bout with mononucleosis.
By the end of the 2012-13 school year, though, Tobey was again at full strength, and in Colorado Springs he earned a spot on the U19 national team, whose assistant coaches included UVa head coach Tony Bennett.
In late June, the U.S. squad flew to the Czech Republic and began an undefeated run through the U19 world championships. For the Americans, it ended July 7 in Prague with an 82-68 victory over Serbia in the title game.
“It was amazing,” Tobey recalled at John Paul Jones Arena. “When they put the gold medal around your neck, and they play the national anthem, it’s pretty emotional. I felt extremely patriotic and really honored just to be there.”
In the U.S.’s nine games in Prague, Tobey averaged 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. His best performance — 10 points and seven rebounds — came in a 109-67 rout of Canada in the quarterfinals.
Some of the United States’ other big men played more than Tobey, but “he was productive when he was in there,” Bennett said.
Tobey’s fellow post players included 6-10, 253-pound Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young High in Chicago), 6-8, 250-pound Jarnell Stokes of Tennessee, 6-8, 210-pound Aaron Gordon of Arizona, and 6-7, 215-pound Montrezl Harrell of NCAA champion Louisville.
“I didn’t get as much as time, but when you’re on that type of team, someone isn’t going to play as much,” Tobey said. “I was just happy to be there. I just tried to go out there and play hard and do what I could in that amount of time.”
The experience, Tobey said, helped him “see more potential and see what I can do down the road. It definitely raised my expectations.”
Bennett has been involved with USA Basketball as a player and a coach. Tobey understands now why his coach speaks so highly of the organization.
“It was awesome,” Tobey said. “They do a great job, and being able to represent your country has always been a dream of mine, and it was definitely an honor.”
Neither Tobey nor Bennett had much time to savor the championship. About 48 hours after receiving their gold medals in Prague, they were back at JPJ, where the Wahoos had been training since mid-June. Small wonder, then, that Tobey is looking forward to some down time at home.
“This has definitely been the busiest year ever for me, and I think for a lot of the other guys, too,” he said. “Everybody’s kind of tired. It’ll be good just going home, being able to recharge the batteries, and then come back strong for the fall and get ready for the season.”
A graduate of Blair Academy in New Jersey, Tobey averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds (in 13.9 minutes per game) as a UVa freshman, shooting 53 percent from the floor and 79.4 percent from the line.
He closed the season with 15 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 22 minutes in a loss to Iowa in the NIT quarterfinals.
Tobey played at about 240 pounds in 2012-13. He entered the offseason knowing he needed to add strength and weight, and his experience with USA Basketball only underscored that.
“That was definitely the one thing that stood out to me a lot, just because those guys like Stokes and Okafor, obviously they outweigh me,” Tobey said. “As I keep working and gain that weight and strength, I feel like that’ll allow me to do things that I have in my repertoire a lot easier and more efficient.”
Tobey dropped a few pounds in Prague, but he was up to 247 when Mike Curtis, UVa’s strength and conditioning coach for basketball, weighed him last week. He had only about three weeks with Curtis after returning from the Czech Republic, but it “was definitely productive,” Tobey said.
“Coach Curtis says I was able to lift more weights than I could before when I left, which is good. So that means I caught up with everything I missed, and I got better.”
In a frontcourt that includes 6-8 senior Akil Mitchell, who was third-team All-ACC in 2012-13, 6-8 junior Darion Atkins and 6-8 sophomore Anthony Gill, who sat out last season after transferring to UVa from South Carolina, Tobey isn’t guaranteed a starting job this season. But he figures prominently in the Cavaliers’ plans.
“I think there’s big steps to be taken from your freshman to your sophomore year,” Bennett said, “and your sophomore to your junior year. I think those are the big steps you take as a player. That last year is maybe not quite as big of jump, it’s more fine-tuning, but I think those two years in between, you see the big jumps. So I’m expecting that from Mike.”
As Tobey gets bigger and stronger, Bennett said, “he’ll get better and better.”
Expect to see other changes in Tobey. At a team meeting at JPJ shortly after they returned from Prague, Bennett said, Tobey didn’t hesitate to speak up about the Cavaliers’ potential.
“Maybe he wouldn’t have done that before,” Bennett said.
Tobey was only 17 when he enrolled at UVa in 2012, and he admits he didn’t feel comfortable speaking up last season.
“I definitely feel more mature in that sense,” he said. “As a freshman, in my opinion, I felt like I had to stay back and pick and choose what I had to say. Last year we had a leader in Jontel [Evans]. We have Joe [Harris] and Akil this year, but hopefully I’ll be able to be a bigger part of this team.
“I want to assert myself, maybe not as a leader, but more as a voice, and help the team any way I can.”
Tobey roomed in Prague with Stokes, and they’ll see each other again this season. UVa defeated Tennessee in Charlottesville last season, and the rematch is in Knoxville.
Head coach Billy Donovan’s assistants were Bennett and VCU coach Shaka Smart, and Tobey will see Smart again soon, too. The `Hoos will host the Rams in an early-season game at JPJ.
“That’ll be fun,” Tobey said. “He’s a really nice guy. Great coach. I got to know him a little bit while we were over there, so I’ll be excited to play him.”
Tobey had a cheering section in Prague for several games: his father and an aunt. The Tobeys have roots in Slovakia, not far from the Czech Republic, and that made the visit to Prague more special for the family members.
“There’s so much history there,” Tobey said.
Tobey plans to bring his gold medal, which he sent home with his father, back to Charlottesville with him late next month. His fellow students aren’t likely to catch him wearing the medal around Grounds, but Tobey won’t hesitate to show off the USA Basketball gear he received as a team member.
“I’ll be rocking that during the school year,” Tobey said, smiling.
TICKET INFORMATION: Season tickets are on sale for the 17 games UVa will play at John Paul Jones Arena in 2013-14.
In ACC play, the Cavaliers will meet Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest at JPJ.
Other teams that will visit JPJ this season include VCU and Wisconsin (in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge).
The ACC will release Virginia’s complete non-conference schedule, along with the dates and times of conference games, in late August or early September.
For more information or to purchase season tickets, call (800) 542-8821. Season tickets can also be purchased on-line at VirginiaSports.com or in-person at the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium.