When I mention the name Mike Tobey to Belgium national player Sam Van Rossom, you instantly hear his voice change to pure enjoyment. The American and Belgium guard will be going into their fifth season together with Spanish ACB club Valencia Basket and memories between them are as long as being stuck in traffic on interstate 405 in Los Angeles, California. I reach Sam Van Rossom on a mild August day in Germany while he is enjoying his summer in his homeland Belgium in Oostende. For the third straight season his ACB season ended in the semi-finals and one has to wonder if each summer, it is a bit more difficult to digest not making the final. “It doesn´t really annoy me. We know how tough the competition is and that all want to win. It is never easy to break through to the final. We aren´t frustrated but just try to be realistic and analyse what happened so we can doit better the next time”, warned Sam Van Rossom. The hottest topic at the moment besides the Los Angeles Lakers gobbling up Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and who will be next has been the Summer Olympics and the basketball tournament. He has watched some games, but the time difference has been a pain in the butt. He has been watching games that have been available on Belgium television. He has only had two teammates that currently are at the Olympics and both play with Slovenia with Klemin Prepelic and friend ex NBA player Mike Tobey who received a Slovenian passport in 2021 and instantly became a teammate of one of the worlds current best players Luka Doncic. Sam Van Rossom has watched Doncic and Tobey play together at the Olympics and sees how well they are harmonizing. He has played together with so many great players that he isn´t jealous that Mike Tobey can practice and celebrate success with Luka Doncic. He also knows that soon his teammate will be back in Valencia and he is 100% confident he won´t flinch when he has to play with him again. He also has a very nice sense of humor concerning Mike Tobey. “Mike is a very good pick and roll player and is a good shooter. He has used the space very well that Luka has been giving him. They play very well together. I don´t think Mike will want to play with me anymore when he returns”, laughed Sam Van Rossom.
Mike Tobey who remembers Nigerian national and NBA player Jahlil Okafor being his toughest foe in the NCAA was born on October 10, 2004 and began his basketball career at Blair Academy where he averaged 21,0ppg and grabbed 9,0 rpg as a senior. He then proceeded to play at the well known University of Virginia(NCAA) from 2012-2016 where he played a total of 136 games. In his four seasons there, he never averaged better than 7,2ppg, but was an important role player helping the school win an ACC title and reach the NCAA Elite 8 and Sweet 16. “Winning the ACC tournament was the biggest moment. The Elite 8 was a great run, but I still have a sour taste not reaching the NCAA Final 4”, said Mike Tobey in 2017. One of his best games was by far his 15 points and 20 rebounds explosion in the 68-46 victory against Louisville. He was lucky to be teammates with NBA player Malcolm Brogdon who taught him something about hard work and to fight back after injuries. “Malcolm was an unbelievable hard worker. The first time I met him he had a broken foot. He worked so hard in the time that he was injured and continued so when he was healthy again. I am happy he is where he is today“, stated Mike Tobey in 2017. In order to be on top of his defensive game in Europe and at the 2021 Olympics, he got a good grip on what it meant to defend from his Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. “We played hard defense at Virginia. I didn´t really like to play defense before college. I feel I was able to improve my defense there and I knew how to play team basketball when I left”, remembered Mike Tobey in 2017.
The American who lists his personal NBA Mount Rushmore with guys Jordan, Lebron, Kareem and Larry Bird split his rookie seasons between the D-League team Greensboro Swarm where he averaged 12,0ppg and 9,0rpg and NBA team Charlotte where he played two games. The biggest challenge his rookie season wasn´t necessarily on the court. “The biggest challenge was the travel. Sometimes we had back to back games in different cities. The whole experience is a real grind where every player is trying to make a name night in and night out. It was very competitive. I would take the route again. That path depends on what situation is best for me”, stated Mike Tobey in 2017. He had no hard feelings that he only played 2 NBA games against Toronto and Detroit. He learned early that you have to understand one vital word business. “ I think no matter where you are be it in the NBA, G-League or Europe, it is a business everywhere. When you’re a professional you need to understand that it is a business”, warned Mike Tobey. One day he will be able to tell his grand children that he was teammates with NBA superstar Kemba Walker. The ex UConn great may not be a top 3 NBA point guard in 2021 even if Tobey thought he could get there in 2017. “I´m sure he could. In the short time that I was around him, I could see how much of a hardworker he was. He is very talented and produced a lot for the team. Anything is possible for him“, expressed Mike Tobey. He then finished the season with Valencia Basket playing 5 games. In the 2016-2017 season he played his first full season in the ACB with Iberostar Tenerife CB Canarias (Spain-Liga ACB) playing 35 games ACB averaging 11.1ppg, Reb-3(6.6rpg), FGP: 58.1%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 58.0%; and played 14 BCL averaging 13.5ppg, 7.0rpg, Blocks-5(1.1bpg), FGP: 65.8%, 3PT-1(66.7%), FT: 65.8%. It was by far his best professional season. He then moved to Valencia Basket in 2018 and has been with the team ever since and will be playing a 5th season with them.
In his first season in the ACB with Tenerife he played against Real Madrid 4 times and lost each game, but played extremely well especialy in the tough two game playoff series where he had 21 points and 9 boards in a 83-73 loss and then had a brilliant 18 points and 16 rebounds in a tough 84-75 loss. Now three years later Mike Tobey and Luka Doncic are teammates with the Slovenian national team after securing the passport in 2021. Slovenia is 4-0 going into the exciting semi-final clash against France today and the nation has had an overall invincible team effort. They have received great support from NBA player Zlatko Cancar, Klemen Prepelic of Valencia and Zoran Dragic of Baskonia, but one can say the two best players for them have been Luka Doncic and Mike Tobey who have formed a lethal one two punch. Doncic as usual is playing like he is from another planet as currently he is averaging a ridiculous 26,3ppg, 10,0rpg and 8,0apg while Mike Tobey averaged 14,0ppg, 7,5rpg and shot a crazy 63% from outside during the Olympic qualifying tournament and currently is averaging 11,5ppg, 12,5rpg and 2,3apg at the Olympic tournament. It is obvious that the big man´s game is hugely benefiting from Doncic´s presence on the floor. “Mike´s game is really profiting from the attention Luka is getting and his dangerous drive. This way Mike can use the alley-oop, his short range game and three. This makes it a lot harder for the opponent to defend him”, warned Sam Van Rossom. The two time Eurocup winner is really looking forward to watching Tobey and Slovenia battle France. “It will be a good game. Both teams are real close to each other. Slovenia has been cruising and dominated most teams except Spain. France on the other hand are playing well. They are deep and play physical. If France find some ways to stop Doncic, then they could have some options to win”, stated Sam Van Rossom. He also doesn´t see team USA having a cake walk over Australia. “I think it will be close. Team USA struggled at the start, but have recovered. At the start of the Olympics I would of said that USA can´t win, but now it will depend on how they feel that day and if shots fall. Australia play well together and play physical. The difference will be small between the team that wins. I don´t have that feeling that you had years ago where USA was invincible and could beat everyone. Kevin Durant said it in an interview that nobody is afraid to play USA”, warned Sam Van Rossom. It will be interesting to see how much the game of Mike Tobey will profit from playing at the Olympics. In 53 Euroleague games, he put up solid 9,0ppg and 4,0rpg which is nice but not great, but in the Euroleague nobody puts up crazy staggering stats, but could Tobey take another step with his game this season in the Eurocup? “I have to disagree with you. I think if you translate his stats over 40 minutes, then they would be very impressive. He has been our back up at the five and I feel he and Bojan Dubljevic compliment each other well. Mike has a name in Europe. I hope that he can keep growing and make new steps in the Eurocup. He is only 26 years old. There is still a lot of time. I feel that he will keep evolving”, stressed Sam Van Rossom.
Sam Van Rossum is a Valencia Basket lifer and going into his ninth season while Mike Tobey also can call Valencia his second home as he is going into his fifth season with them. When the ex University of Virginia(NCAA) center first came to Valencia in March 2017, he and Van Rossom right away had to gel. “We were both hurt and spent a lot of time together in the weight room. He is so easy going. We have always had a very good relationship. He is one of those guys that is liked by everyone. He is a great person”, commented Sam Van Rossom. Tobey is the type of player that will make any point guard anywhere and in any system just smile or lead him to rave on about his play. He just makes the basketball life for Van Rossom so much easier. “I can do so much with him. If it´s throwing up the lob to beat the big on the pick and roll, or get him on the short role or pick and pop. He is such a complete player. He is always a constant threat against the defense. He has helped me read the pick and roll a lot better. We profit from each other”, said Sam van Rossom. The American has proved that he has been a modern big man since years mainly because he has developed a dangerous outside shot. He has improved his three point percentage each season in the ACB as last season he reached the 40% mark and wasn´t far behind in the Euroleague hitting 39%. The game in the post is eroding more and more as the big man has the complete package. Van Rossom has seen his development in Valencia since day one. “He adapted to Europe very well coming from the D-League. He understood his role really well and I think he made more steps on the defensive end than on the offensive end. Obviously his offense has been very good. It is even better now with his three pointer. He is always able to open up the court and help your team play in a good way. He is always able to bring something when he is on the court and always helps your team”, warned Sam Van Rossom. It is never easy to pick that one greatest moment, but when you remember the 2019 Valencia Eurocup title, then you can be sure that that is way up on the list. “It is always nicest when you win the title or a big game. That is bigger than that one alley-oop”, expressed Sam Van Rossom. When you have played so many games together finding that special best play can´t be difficult. Good for Sam Van Rossom that he remembered a remarkable play between him and Tobey last season to make his choice not as difficult. “I remember playing against FC Barcelona. It was a side pick and role with Mike. It was good timing. All went well”, stated Sam Van Rossom. No matter if Slovenia wins a medal or not, one thing is for sure, the unique and breathtaking plays between Van Rossom and Tobey will continue to dazzle fans in 20-21. Nobody will ever get sick of the lethal alley-oop between Sam Van Rossom and Mike Tobey.