After looking at Teven Jones yesterday, our four-part series on UVA basketball's (conveniently) four-man 2012 recruiting class continues with Mike Tobey.
With 6'8" Mike Scott and 7'-0" Assane Sene graduating and 6'9" James Johnson hitting the road mid-season, one would imagine that the roster would be in dire need of large bodies. Luckily, one of these is on the way in the form of 6'11" center Mike Tobey.
The story of Tobey's recruitment is an ancient tale by now, as he verballed way back in January of 2011, and it's a bit of a complex one too. The center's late birthday (he'll still be 17 when he arrives on Grounds in the fall), initially led to his decision to repeat his sophomore year of high school and classify himself with the class of 2013. This would have been possible when he transferred from Don Bosco Prep, Steven Proscia's old stomping grounds, to Hotchkiss School in Connecticut (before finishing his high school career at Blair Academy). However, shortly thereafter he reconsidered the decision, chosing to reclassify with the class of 2012.
Tony Bennett's early interest in Tobey paid off, as Mike fell in love with the University after his unofficial visit and quickly committed. At the time, he was a strong recruit who earned three stars from Rivals and came in at #89 in the ESPNU 100, picking up offers from Pittsburgh, Maryland, Miami, and Xavier, and interest from Notre Dame and Georgetown. Since then, his stock in the volatile world of recruiting rankings has only improved; he now stands as a four-star recruit and has moved to 80th on ESPN's rankings.
What are Tobey's strengths? First of all, recall that he is 6'-11". ESPN praises his strength as an inside-out center. Tobey can catch the ball away from the basket and hit a jump shot, but also has strong footwork that allows him to be effective with his back to the basket. The strength of his jumper, considered with his size, is a combo that leads coaches to praise his high ceiling. On the other hand, Tobey has some filling out to do if he wants to be a force inside. As a first-year, his size alone likely won't be enough to compete on the boards against strong and more experienced ACC centers.
Recruiting services commonly throw around the word "raw" in reference to Tobey's skill set. This characterization is true for the vast majority of big men not named "Anthony Davis," and would be our expectation from the still-growing 17 year-old. Despite this, it is important not to consider Tobey as a "project." While he has plenty of development to do, Tobey is arriving on Grounds as a skilled, big-time commit who we could expect to contribute to some degree right away.
That said, if there's anything UVA fans could learn from studying the career arc of our recent graduates, expectations for any first-year big man should be tempered. Assane Sene, Jerome Meyinsse, and Will Sherrill were essentially non-factors as freshmen; Sene averaged 2.5 ppg in 17 minutes, Meyinsse figured in for 1.1 ppg in 7 minutes, and Will Sherrill played only in garbage time. As seniors, all were major contributors. Even the great Mike Scott was good for just 6 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes per game. It's safe to say that Tobey will not be taking the ACC by storm.
What we can reasonably hope for next season is for Tobey to play effectively in the minutes he receives and provide depth in the big-man rotation. For Wahoo fans who don't recall, "depth" would mean that starters don't need to play 40 minute per game; rather, "backups" would be available to come off the "bench" to spell them effectively. Akil Mitchell will likely start, though it is unclear who will play alongside him. Darion Atkins will see plenty of time, and Evan Nolte could play the 4 too; while it isn't ideal, Joe Harris could take the spot if the Hoos want to go small. Minutes are there for Tobey's taking, and I would expect him to be a part of Bennett's rotation as a first year, albeit not a major one.
"We recruited him to come in and help us in his first year. If he's able to do that, whatever he can handle he'll get," Tony Bennett told HudsonValley.com. "If he needs a little more time to develop then we'll be patient because we know the upside is there and the long range is good. My hope and my belief is that he's going to surprise some people and do some things as a freshman because he has a good mind for the game. It's easier said than done, but a good off-season, the chance to play during UVa's summer tour along with his own hard work should provide him the opportunity to make an impact as a freshman."
Down the road, Tobey has all the physical tools to be a major contributor to the team and a significant factor in the ACC. Never underestimate the power of year-to-year improvements. Temper your expectations now, but a few years in the future, the sky's the limit.