By Cesare Milanti / firstname.lastname@example.org
MANILA, Philippines – The Slovenian national team made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, with Luka Doncic leading the way. However, he had great help from the naturalized US center, Mike Tobey, who’s been donning the Slovenian jersey for two years now.
The new Crvena Zvezda player has been averaging 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, with an average PIR of 18.2, and he especially shined in a crucial game against Australia. Now, another big challenge awaits Doncic, Tobey, and the Slovenian team as they face one of the tournament’s favorites, Canada.
“We know Canada is a great team; they’ve had a great tournament so far, and they have experienced players. Big names, especially NBA games. We are excited because it’s the Quarter-Finals: it’s do-or-die at this point, so we are going to give everything we got. We came here to win, and I think we are a great team as well, we’ve shown we can compete with anybody in this kind of tournament. Anything can happen,” Tobey said.
The 28-year-old center agrees that Canada is among the top contenders of the tournament, alongside the USA, and the only two teams with a perfect 5-0 score so far, Germany and Lithuania.
“There are a lot of good teams. We played Germany; it wasn’t our best game, but at the same time, they’re a very good team, especially if they’re able to get Franz back as well: he’s an amazing player. You always have to count the United States as a favorite, and if you say that, you have to give credit to Lithuania as well. Canada, as said, has been playing great with a lot of talent. The teams I’ve just mentioned will be the favorite, in my opinion, but I really think it’s an open field.”
Tobey obtained his Slovenian passport in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments and has since been one of the key players on Aleksandar Sekulic’s team, displaying excellent chemistry with his Slovenian teammates.
“It’s great, there’s an amazing chemistry within this team. We show it on the court. How well we play with each other tells you how enjoying is being around each other. The longer I’m here, the more I’m growing the relationship with the guys, and every summer, I’m learning a little bit more about the Slovenian culture. I need to work on the language a little bit, but every summer, I just feel closer and closer.”
He’s especially thriving when sharing the court with an NBA and Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic.
“Obviously, Luka is amazing. He’s been carrying us the whole time, he’s been phenomenal, as he always is. He’s a huge focus point for a lot of teams, it happens when you’re one of the best players in the world.”
Since Doncic finished the NBA season earlier than expected, he spent most of the summer in his native Slovenia, resting but also preparing for the World Cup and the upcoming season with the Mavs, and Tobey noticed the positive results.
“I’d say I feel he’s a little bit more rested. He looks fresh and in shape, he’s really taking care of his body and himself a lot more seriously this summer. You can tell it by his nutrition, by how he looks: he’s in a lot better shape. I really see a big step forward in that part of his professionalism. He seems to be more focused. It seems both. I’ve said it before with friends and family. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have that kind of fame, constantly everybody asking you questions.”
Naturalized players are starting to make a more significant impact as time passes. After a brilliant decision to issue the passport to Anthony Randolph before the 2017 Eurobasket, which resulted in a gold medal, Slovenia made another astute move by adding Tobey as a naturalized player to the team. He fit well with the team, and the fact that he’s still playing under the Slovenian flag proves how important a piece he was and is to Sekulic’s plans.
More and more national teams are making that move, but there are also those in the basketball world who are against naturalized players, like Iran’s head coach, Hakan Demir, who has clearly voiced his stance on this topic.
“I understand both sides of the rule. For me, I think it helps make teams competitive. I’m sure in the future the national teams will do it more because sometimes teams are really just a piece away. Slovenia shows it’s just adding one person in the position they don’t have as many big guys in this generation. I think it can make a big difference, and help small countries compete,” Tobey concluded.
PHOTO CREDIT: 2023 FIBA World Cup