Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Barcelona to Israel for a Euroleague Round 7 matchup as the Yellow & Blue enter the contest with a 4-2 record after falling last week at Baskonia. Oded Katash’s squad will try to get back onto the winning track while also keeping their perfect home record intact.
While a number of players including Nikola Mirotic will not be available due to injury, Saras Jasikevičius still has plenty of weapons on his roster with one of them being big man Mike Tobey.
The 28-year old joined Barcelona at the start of this season after having played with Valencia as well as Tenerife while his ACB career started near the end of the 2016/17 campaign. Tobey has collected plenty of hardware on his Spanish journey thus far including the Intercontinental Cup in 2017 along with the MVP award with Tenerife, the 2017 Spanish League Championship with Valencia in 2017 along with the EuroCup title in 2019 also with Valencia.
On top of all of that, the biggest prize perhaps has been Tobey’s time with the Slovenia National team and superstar Luka Doncic as he has taken part in a slew of competitions with the Dallas Mavericks forward including the Olympics and Eurobasket.
With his move to Barcelona, there is no question that Tobey will be looking to add more titles to his trophy case as winning is always the name of the game. Just ahead of Barca’s trip to Tel Aviv, the Monroe, New York native spoke to The Sports Rabbi about a myriad of topics from his time with Slovenia and Luka to college hoops with Virginia and how he made his way to Barcelona.
“It was just free agency as I was at home and my agent called me with the opportunity. When Barcelona calls, you jump at the opportunity. I was very excited. So far it’s going great and we are having a good season so far. I hope that we can continue to improve and I’m definitely enjoying it here so far.”
Barcelona is a team with immense pressure and huge expectations which is very different than a club like Valencia Tobey explained, “It’s been good here so far and there are a lot of expectations and pressure when you are one of the biggest clubs in Europe. You are trying to win and you want to win. As a competitor that is what you are looking forward to do and I am one who wants to win.”
On the sidelines for Barcelona is one of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s former greats Saras Jasikevičius who helped the Yellow & Blue to a pair of Euroleague titles back in 2004 and 2005. The Lithuanian maestro has plenty to offer and Tobey is finding out first hand just how brilliant a basketball mind he has.
“It’s great and I am learning so much by playing for him. His mind is not like any other that I have been around. He gives us a lot of information and it is overwhelming at times as he thinks about the game more than anyone. He does a great job.”
Tobey, who hails from Monroe, New York which is just north of New York City, isn’t a hotbed of basketball, but Tobey has been able thus to make a career from the game to his pleasant surprise.
“It was just a lot of luck growing up. My goal was to play college ball and my father felt as though that was a way to go to a great school and get an education and then get a good job and do what you want in the work force. I never envisioned myself playing professional ball and this has been pure gravy and just going with the flow. It’s been an unbelievable ride.”
For college, Tobey attended Virginia where he played under head coach Tony Bennett and shared the court with the likes of many familiar names from the NBA, Israel and abroad including Anthony Gill, Malcolm Brogdon, Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, London Perrantes, Devon Hall, Joe Harris and Darius Thompson.
During his four years at Virginia, Tobey and Cavaliers played in the NCAA Tournament every single season but came up a bit short with his senior year the most painful of them all “Definitely the last year I was at Virginia we had a great team with guys like Joe Harris and Devon Hall and a lot of others. That last year was most frustrating when we were in the Elite 8 and we blew the game to Syracuse. If we win, we may go all the way but there is a lot of luck single game elimination games and all. To see those guys that I played with having great careers is a lot of fun to watch.”
One of the many fun and exciting twists in Tobey’s career is the opportunity to play with Slovenia and Luka Doncic as he explained how he landed up playing with one of the great players of the generation.
“Klemen Prepelic was the one who put in the good word as Slovenia wanted to naturalize a big man. I fit the profile that could play pick and roll with Luka, pop and spread the floor. As for playing with Luka, it’s always great playing with him and he’s an amazing talent. It’s a lot of fun and his ability to read the game is incredible. He is a great guy on and off the court and the first one to play around and get the music going in the lockerroom.”
Tobey’s first competition with Slovenia was the 2020 Olympic qualifiers in which he played a huge part in helping the Balkan nation punch their ticket to Japan after scoring 13 points in a 96-85 win over Lithuania to send them to the promised land.
“It was amazing and I never thought I would play in the Olympics as you think about TEAM USA with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and the top guys. I knew that was never going to be realistic and that I would never be on that team. But when the opportunity came up I knew that I would remember playing in the Olympics for the rest of my life.”
Slovenia pushed the envelope as far as they could with an exceptional tournament but ended up on the short end of the stick in a 90-89 drastic semifinal defeat to France in devastating fashion.
“It was the worse loss of my life, a terrible way to lose. We played so great in the tournament and that game against France was our worst as a team as we were so close to go to the gold medal game.”
Interestingly enough Israel will be hosting Slovenia in a FIBA World Cup qualifier on Friday afternoon, but the squads that featured the NBA and Euroleague over the summer in the Eurobasket will not be available this time around as the teams will have many more domestic based players for the upcoming games.
“It’s a different group of guys but we have a great basketball culture and we all believe in the coach. The guys that are there will do a good job with the young guys they will be all in, fight and battle and hopefully come out the game with a win.”
As for the game itself, Barcelona has had a tough time in Tel Aviv over the past few years, but Tobey is determined to change that, “We can go in there after a long trip and do what we need to do with the right mindset and energy in order to get the win. Maccabi’s squad are all super talented and growing up in the US I am familiar with these guys as they were big names in college basketball. We have been watching them all year but we need to execute our game plan in order to break the streak of losses in Tel Aviv.”