Nathan Sobey’s rise to be selected in the 2021 All-NBL first team and win a bronze medal with the Boomers at the Tokyo Olympics Games

During the 2021 NBL season Brisbane Bullets guard Nathan Sobey elevated his game to a new stratosphere to rank second in the league for scoring and minutes played, eighth for assists and earnt his maiden selection in the All-NBL First team.

As a junior Sobey was a talented basketball player, however he never represented Victoria Country at under-age level let alone Australia and had a very different pathway to most of the Australian Boomers teammates he has played alongside from 2017 to 2021.

When he was growing up in Warrnambool Sobey played both basketball and Australian Rules football. After Sobey played basketball for the Warrnambool Seahawks at senior level in the 2010 Big V season he moved overseas to play College basketball in the United States of America, spending  two seasons at Cochise Junior College in the National Junior College Athletic Association followed by two seasons with University of Wyoming. During his four seasons playing College basketball in the USA 193 centimetre tall Sobey learnt how to be a professional on and off the court and developed his game including his athletic capabilities.

Following four seasons playing college basketball in America Sobey returned to Australia and made his NBL debut at 24 years of age for the Cairns Taipans in 2014/15 followed by four seasons with the Adelaide 36ers from 2015/16 to 2018/19.

After averaging 10 minutes court-time per game for Adelaide in 2015/16 a foot injury to then Adelaide 36ers captain Mitch Creek provided Sobey with an opportunity as a starter which he took with both hands to retain his position in the starting line-up when Creek returned from injury two months later. Sobey’s breakout 2016/17 season with Adelaide was rewarded with being named the NBL’s most improved player and selection in the All-NBL second team, averaging 15.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.

At 27 years of age Sobey made his debut with the Australian Boomers in November 2017 and he has represented his country at several tournaments including the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the last two major championships – the 2019 World Cup in China and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Sobey’s role for the Australian Boomers is dependant on the availability of Australia’s NBA players. With NBA players unavailable Sobey played a prominent role for the Boomers at the 2018 Commonwealth Games to lead his country in rebounds and assists. In May 2019 Sobey was a joint winner of the 2019 Gaze Family Medal as the Australian Boomers International Player of the Year along with forward Nick Kay. When the Boomers have been at full strength at major championships Sobey plays off the bench and performs a more defensive oriented role.

During his seven season NBL career Sobey has averaged more than 12.5 points per game in each of his past five seasons from his breakout 2015/16 season with Adelaide onwards. In Sobey’s fourth and final season with Adelaide in 2018/19 he was selected in the All-NBL second team for the second time.

Sobey signed a three-season deal with the Brisbane Bullets for 2019/20 to 2021/22. After averaging a career-high 16.5 points for the Bullets in 2019/20 Sobey took on even greater responsibility during the 2021 season, however despite an impressive start to the season was overlooked when the Boomers extended 24 player squad for the Tokyo Olympics was announced in early February 2021. A phenomenal 2021 NBL season with the Bullets contributed to Sobey being a late addition in May 2021 to the Australian Boomers extended squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

Sobey had a career-best NBL season with the Brisbane Bullets in 2021 to average 21.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game to finish third in the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.  

On 3 July 2021 Sobey was selected in the Australian Boomers 12 player team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. After being selected Sobey posted on his Instagram account “It’s not impossible, nothing is. Counted out my whole life and found a way to keep the dream alive! Never give up 🇦🇺 #tokyo2021.”1

Sobey’s basketball career at college level, in the NBL and with the Australian Boomers is comprehensively covered below.

Early life and college career in the United States of America

Nathan Sobey was born on 14 July 1990 in Warrnambool, a Victorian coastal city “with a population of almost 34,000 people (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015) located 263 kilometres south-west of Melbourne.”2 Nathan’s parents are Peter and Kerrie, he has two brothers Josh and Jacob.

On the 94 & More Episode 36 – Nathan Sobey podcast co-hosted by ex-Brisbane Bullets teammate Vic Law, Sobey commented on playing basketball and Australian Rules when he was growing up and then progressing to play College Basketball in the United States of America, Sobey said “I always just loved basketball, I always had a basketball in my hand, obviously growing up in a small country town in Australia down from Melbourne in Victoria I played a lot of sport. Australian Rules football is huge in Australia, played that the majority of time growing up until I made a decision that I thought basketball was what I wanted to do and I had more fun doing it, I decided to head off to College and spend my time in the States. It was just I always loved playing basketball, all my friends chose football, I could have easily chosen football and went down that route with my mates and stuff but I always had the feeling that basketball was what I wanted to do and I had more fun doing it. It was probably just a young age thing for me where I enjoyed bouncing a basketball and chasing around guys that were in our semi-professional team in the town I grew up in with imports along the line of Bobby and Tim and Curtis and stuff and I just loved hanging around with them and spending time with them so I think it was just a combination of that.”

During 2010 Sobey played at senior level in the Big V league for the Warrnambool Seahawks (the semi-professional team Sobey referred to above) alongside playing coach Tim Gainey. Earlier in his basketball career Gainey had played for Cochise Junior College which competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association in the United States of America.

During his time at Cochise Gainey’s head coach was Jerry Carillo who remained in the role in 2010. Gainey commented to https://www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com/ on his impression of Sobey at the Warrnambool Seahawks and the communication he had with coach Carillo about Sobey, saying “He had snuck under the radar basketball-wise and was probably leaning towards AFL Football. His family were more of a football family. But Nathan had skills and was definitely a gymrat. I could see he could do well at the Junior College level and took on helping him get to my old school. I pushed hard with Coach Carillo and he trusted me. Nathan ended up there and since then has taken all his opportunities, made the most of them, to establish his career in the sport.”3

As a freshman playing off the bench for Cochise Junior College in 2010/11 Sobey averaged 7.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. During 2010/11 Cochise had 22 wins, 11 losses and won the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region I Championship.

In his sophomore season for Cochise Sobey played a more prominent role in 2011/12, averaging 16.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Sobey shot the ball at 48% from the field and was selected in the All-Conference First-Team and All-Region First-Team. Cochise had a 25-6 record, won the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference title for the sixth time and competed in the national junior college tournament.

After two seasons at Cochise Sobey transferred to Wyoming where he played his junior and senior college seasons. On his decision to join the Wyoming Cowboys Sobey told https://www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com/ “Definitely did not choose Wyoming for the location. The conference Wyoming was in was really strong at the time. The rosters of other teams were strong and I felt I could push myself to get to the next level there. Coaches at Wyoming were also really welcoming and I felt that was the best program for me and my development.”4 In his junior season in 2012/13 Sobey was the first guard off the bench for Wyoming, he played 32 of a possible 33 games and averaged 3.5 points, 1.0 rebounds and 13.3 minutes per game.

During his 2013/14 senior season with Wyoming Sobey started all 33 games and averaged 9.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 30.2 minutes per game. Sobey ranked fourth at Wyoming for scoring and third for rebounds and assists.   

On the 94 & More Episode 36 – Nathan Sobey podcast Sobey spoke about his experiences playing College basketball in the United States of America, saying “I guess everyone’s path is going to be different and whatnot but for me and taking that path to college and what it did for me personally, figuring out what basketball is like as a full-time investment, learning the full ropes of what it takes to take that next level of basketball commitment. Going from training a couple of times a week in Australia to two-a-days in America, then weights and whatnot and just figuring it out along the way of what it takes and then obviously how much it helps you in developing your game I guess to try and get it to that next level and be ready for that NBL jump. That for me was probably it, I don’t think I was probably ready to be fully invested in the NBL and for me to go to America and learn what it takes to improve your game, spend a lot of time on it and see some sort of progress and the process of what is actually happening and come back and be able to play in the NBL that’s what I mainly take from that sort of thing.”

“For young kids it is hard to just be a young kid in Australia and just go straight to the NBL. At the time there was only eight teams in the league, there is not a lot of spots for all these kids to just jump in and sometimes going a different route and figuring it out in the States is awesome for that. The programs that they have over there, the investment into their sports programs and school, it is definitely a great learning and step for kids to take.”

On his evolution as a player Sobey told 94 & More “The whole fact of showing up early, on time, obviously there is consequences when you don’t, especially in the College days. Being able to figure out how to be a professional on and off the court was huge for me to be able to be ready for when my number was called when I came back. I went through ups and downs like anyone, not getting much court-time and whatnot so being able to stay ready, keep working on my game when I am not playing so that when that time comes you are ready to go.”           

After college Sobey returned to Australia and played for the Ballarat Miners in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) in 2014, he was named the Round 18 player of the week.

Debut NBL season with the Cairns Taipans in 2014/15

Sobey signed with the Cairns Taipans as a training squad member for the 2014/15 NBL season. Cairns Taipans head coach Aaron Fearne commented on Sobey joining the Taipans “I’m really excited for Nathan to be joining the Taipans squad; he has great competitive spirit, he’s a strong defender and his athleticism is as good as it gets in this league. He probably flew under the radar a little bit in college, but I’m pleased to have him be a part of the club. Being a training player is not an easy job as you aren’t eligible to suit up for home games like development players are. But he wanted to be part of a club that wanted him, which we do.”5

An outstanding pre-season trial performance by Nathan led to him getting elevated to the ‘11th man’ contract at Cairns which enabled him to play home games but not travel for road trips. Sobey’s Cairns teammate Corey Maynard injured his thumb against Townsville on 3 January 2015 and whilst he was on the sidelines injured, Sobey was promoted to be the Taipans 10th player for part of the season, enabling him to play games on the road as well as at home.

Sobey made his NBL debut at 24 years of age for Cairns on 11 January 2015 in a road game against the Townsville Crocodiles. On debut Sobey played 2 minutes and was scoreless in Cairns’ 78-73 victory. Six days later Sobey scored his first NBL points, making his only field goal attempt in four minutes court-time during a Cairns 80-76 victory against the Sydney Kings at home.

Cairns won the NBL minor premiership for the first time in club history with 21 wins and seven losses during 2014/15. When Maynard had recovered from his thumb injury Cairns opted to keep Sobey in their line-up instead of Maynard for their semi final against Perth. Cairns won their semi final series two games to nil against Perth to progress to the NBL Grand Final for the time in club history. In Cairns’ first Grand Final appearance in 2010/11 they were defeated by the New Zealand Breakers two games to nil.

The Cairns Taipans opponent in the 2014/15 Grand Final was again the New Zealand Breakers. Cairns were defeated by the Breakers 71-86 in Game 1 at the Cairns Convention Centre and lost game 2 in a road game 81-83 at North Shore Events Centre which secured the NBL Championship for the Breakers. Sobey averaged 1.7 points and 5.3 minutes per game for the Cairns Taipans during the 2014/15 NBL season.

Sobey joins Adelaide 36ers main roster for 2015/16 and dominates for Warrnambool Seahawks in 2016 Big V season

After his debut NBL season with Cairns Sobey joined the Adelaide 36ers, signing a three-year deal to be a member of the main roster for the 2015/16 to 2017/18 NBL seasons. In December 2015 Adelaide head coach Joey Wright commented on Sobey “He’s definitely a future star in this league. His work ethic is off the charts and that’s why I put him in the category of a young Chris Goulding … Goulding’s work ethic was a star type work ethic and Sobey has the same thing. You know with his work ethic and his abilities that there’s no chance he can’t be good. He’s so young as a player that he doesn’t know that now but coaches would know that if you check four or five different boxes, you can’t help but be good.”6

Sobey told adeladie36ers.com in December 2015 “Guarding (Jerome) Randle every day is enjoyable for me. He is very talented and I pick up lots of things from what he’s doing. Gibbo’s (Adam Gibson) the same, he has a really high basketball IQ and has played under Joey a lot and knows everything that’s expected. He helps out a lot and mentors us younger guys.”7

During the 2015/16 season Sobey was a role player for Adelaide, playing between five and 15 minutes court-time in most games. In a road game against the Illawarra Hawks on 25 January 2016 Sobey scored 10 points, took four rebounds and had four assists in 15 minutes court-time. During 2015/16 Sobey played 26 games for the Adelaide 36ers, averaging 4.2 points and 9.9 minutes per game.

In the NBL off-season Sobey put into practice what he had learnt from Adelaide teammates Randle and Gibson which contributed to him dominating for the Warrnambool Seahawks during the 2016 Big V season. Sobey had a dream 2016 Big V season, winning the Division One Championship with the Warrnambool Seahawks, led the league for scoring and assists and was named the Men’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) and Finals MVP.

On his 2016 Big V season with the Warrnambool Seahawks Sobey commented “I got to go home and put up 40 shots a game and just get after it and have a lot of fun with some people that I grew up with and some great friends and it really gave me a whole bunch of confidence to just come back (to the NBL) and know if I just play basketball all the rest will take care of itself. I think that confidence carried on through to that second year with Adelaide, yeah it really helped me out.”

Playing for Warrnambool enabled Sobey to spend more time with his family who were also heavily involved with the Warrnambool Seahawks. In late December 2016 Sobey commented to journalist Roy Ward from the Sydney Morning Herald on winning the 2016 Big V championship with the Seahawks and spending time with his family “It was an unreal feeling. My younger brother Jacob is club president and mum was president when we lost the grand final. To win it was pretty special and to have my brother alongside me too – it was great to play in front of family again.”8

Breakout 2016/17 season with Adelaide earns Sobey All-NBL second team selection and the league’s most improved player award

In Round 2 of the 2016/17 NBL season Adelaide captain Mitch Creek suffered a foot stress fracture during the first half of a 87-98 loss to Melbourne United. Due to Creek’s injury Sobey was given more court-time in that game and made an impact, scoring 15 points in 16 minutes court-time. Small forward/shooting guard Creek’s foot stress fracture resulted in him missing just under two months of basketball.

In Adelaide’s first game after Creek’s foot injury Sobey, promoted to the starting line-up played brilliantly for Adelaide, scoring 21 points – ranked second in the game for Adelaide behind Jerome Randle with 34 points, had a game-high six assists and took three rebounds in a 96-93 road victory against the Brisbane Bullets. Sobey shot the ball proficiently, making six of his nine two-pointers and three of his five three-pointers for a field goal accuracy of 64.3%.

On the 26 August 2020 episode of Gibbo Goes One on One driven by MG | Nathan Sobey, Sobey told Adam Gibson about the opportunity that Creek’s injury provided, commenting “My second year in Adelaide, unfortunately for Creeky, he went down with an injury and gave me an opportunity to start for a few games, I just took it with all arms and tried to do whatever I could to try keep that position. It definitely feels good to be able to say that I put in some work and got some benefits from it.”

From the game that Creek was injured onwards Sobey had eight consecutive games scoring at least 14 points. When Creek returned from injury later in the season Sobey maintained his place in Adelaide’s starting line-up.

Adelaide had 17 wins and 11 losses during the 2016/17 season to win the NBL minor premiership but were upset in the semi finals by Illawarra one game to two. During 2016/17 playing as a guard Sobey thrived as a member of the Adelaide 36ers starting line-up and had a break-out season, averaging 15.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 27.1 minutes per game. Sobey scored 32 points in a game twice, in a road game against the New Zealand Breakers on 27 October, 2016 and in a home game against Melbourne United on 9 January, 2017.

At the 2016/17 NBL Awards Night Sobey was recognised for his outstanding season by being named the NBL’s most improved player and was named in the 2016-17 All-NBL Second team. Adelaide team-mates Jerome Randle and Daniel Johnson were both named in the All-NBL First team, with point guard Randle also being named the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). Another 36er Anthony Drmic was named Rookie of the Year and Joey Wright won coach of the year.

On his time being coached by Joey Wright at the Adelaide 36ers Sobey told Gibbo Goes One on One driven by MG “He gives you a platform to be able to actually play and the style that he was playing was perfect for me especially in the beginning of my career. I can’t thank him enough for giving me that opportunity and developing me as much as he did.”

In March 2017 Sobey joined Greek Club PAOK on loan from the Adelaide 36ers. In PAOK’s 88-71 victory against Kymis on 18 March Sobey scored a game-high 25 points in 31 minutes court-time in a proficient shooting display, having a field goal accuracy of 57.9% and made three of his six three-pointers.

Sobey attended NBA team Utah Jazz’s free-agent mini-camp in June 2017 and performed well to earn a spot with the Utah Jazz in the 2017 Summer League. Utah Jazz Summer League coach Zach Guthrie commented on Sobey “Nate was in for our mini-camp as well and played really well there and that’s what helped him come to our Summer League team. Unfortunately he got derailed early with the groin injury so he’s still not at 100 percent, he’s still trying to get his feet under him and the rhythm and flow to his game.”9 After not scoring in his first Summer League game Sobey scored six points in his second Summer League game for the Utah Jazz against the LA Clippers.

In 2017/18 Adelaide finished second on the ladder with 18 wins and 10 losses. Adelaide defeated Perth 2 games to nil in a semi final. In the NBL Grand Final against Melbourne United the home side won each game and Adelaide were defeated two games to three. During 2017/18 Sobey averaged 12.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 27.3 minutes per game. 

Sobey represents the Australian Boomers at 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Cup

Sobey made his debut for the Australian Boomers at 27 years of age on 24 November 2017 in Adelaide at Titanium Security Arena in the Boomers opening game of their campaign in the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers. In his Boomers debut against Chinese Taipei Sobey score five points and made four assists in Australia’s 104-66 victory.  

Basketball was included in the 2018 Commonwealth Games played in Queensland during April and Sobey was a member of the Australian Boomers team that was coached by Andrej Lemanis. Australia won all three of their Pool A games at Cairns Convention Centre against Canada (95-55), New Zealand (79-73) and Nigeria (97-55). In the Boomers opening pool game victory against Canada Sobey registered a double-double comprised of 10 points and 11 rebounds from just 16 minutes and 45 seconds court-time, he also made three assists.

The semi finals and medal games of the 2018 Commonwealth Games were played at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre. The Australian Boomers dominated their semi final against Scotland from start to finish, leading 20-4 at quarter time and went on to defeat Scotland 103-46. Sobey scored nine points, making three of his four three-pointers, took five rebounds and made an equal game-high six assists. In the gold medal game Australia defeated Canada 87-47. Off the bench Sobey scored 10 points – ranked equal second for the game behind teammate Chris Goulding with 11 points, took a game-high eight rebounds and made three assists. At the Commonwealth Games Sobey averaged 8.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 20.0 minutes per game. Sobey led the Australian Boomers for rebounds and assists, ranked equal fifth for scoring and fourth for minutes played. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games Sobey ranked sixth overall for rebounds per game, sixth for assists and equal fourth for three-point accuracy with 50.0%.

On playing for the Australian Boomers and winning a gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Sobey told Gibbo “It was amazing and obviously with a bunch of good blokes too that all loved playing together. On home soil as well in front of family and friends, that is extra special, that will always have a place in one of my top achievements for sure.”

Sobey started the 2018/19 NBL season brilliantly to score at least 18 points for Adelaide in each of his first five games of the season. In the last game of this sequence Sobey registered a triple double comprised of 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 91-83 victory on the road against the Cairns Taipans.

During the 2018/19 NBL season for the Adelaide 36ers Sobey averaged 16.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game to register new career-highs in all three categories whilst playing 31.3 minutes per game. Sobey was selected in the 2018/19 All-NBL second team along with Adelaide teammate Daniel Johnson.

In the 2019 World Cup qualifiers Sobey represented Australia a team-high eight times. During a victory against Kazakhstan in Bendigo Sobey scored 15 points, had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. On 10 May 2019 Sobey was a joint winner of the 2019 Gaze Family Medal as the Australian Boomers International Player of the Year along with forward Nick Kay.

During 2019 Sobey played for French club SIG Strasbourg alongside fellow Australian David Anderson. Sobey averaged 4.5 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 15.5 minutes per game for SIG Strasbourg. In a 75-55 victory against Antibes at home on 23 March Sobey scored a season-high 11 points in 22 minutes court-time, making five of his nine field goal attempts at an accuracy of 55.6%.   

The Brisbane Bullets announced in April 2019 that Sobey had signed with them for three seasons until the end of the 2021/22 NBL season. Brisbane Bullets head coach Andrej Lemanis commented on Sobey “Nathan is an extremely skilled basketball player, a great athlete and a wonderful person. Obviously, he will add pace to the team and an ability to get to the rim, but he also has an ability to see the floor and find opportunities for his teammates. Nathan averages over 5 assists a game, the best in the league – he is the sort of player that makes everyone else better both on and off the court – his professionalism and leadership skills are impressive. I, and the entire team are thrilled that he has chosen to join the Bullets.”10

At the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup held in China from 31 August to 15 September Sobey played his first major championship for the Australian Boomers. Australia won their first six games of the tournament to progress to the semi finals where they played Spain who had a controversial one point victory against the Boomers at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in the bronze medal game. With five minutes remaining in the 2019 World Cup bronze medal game Australia led Spain 65-58. Spain outplayed Australia in the final minutes and with the scores locked at 71 points apiece at the end of regulation the game went to overtime. Two periods of extra time were required and Spain eventually prevailed 95-88 after double overtime.

In the bronze medal game against France the Boomers led 54-53 with four minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. France went on a 14-5 run to defeat Australia 67-59. Sobey only played two of Australia’s eight games at the 2019 World Cup, playing one minute against Canada and made his only field goal attempt in four minutes against the Dominican Republic.

Sobey joins the Brisbane Bullets in 2019/20 and has a career-best 2021 season

During Sobey’s first season with the Brisbane Bullets in 2019/20 he scored at least 20 points in a game eight times including three games where he scored more than 28 points and played less than 30 minutes court-time. In 2019/20 Sobey averaged a career-high 16.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 27.4 minutes per game. Brisbane Bullets forward Lamar Patterson was named in the 2019/20 All-NBL first team and led the Bullets in scoring with 21.4 points per game.

In a video Nathan Sobey – The Journeypublished on the Brisbane Bullets Facebook page on 17 September 2021, Sobey reflected on his decision to sign with the Brisbane Bullets and his time with the club to date, commenting “Obviously moving here for different reasons, getting the chance to play under Drej in a more consistent basis and work with CJ and then Sammy Mac in the first year I feel as though as the first year went on I gradually started to figure it out more and more and then obviously my teammates like Jase, all those guys put in positions to be successful and give me every chance to try and be who I am on a  nightly basis, especially on the court.”

In the 2021 NBL season Sobey took on greater responsibility for Brisbane with Patterson having left the club and joined the New Zealand Breakers. After scoring 19 points in the Bullets opening game of the 2021 season Sobey scored at least 24 points in five consecutive games. In the middle game of this sequence Sobey played all 40 minutes, scored 30 points, had four rebounds and five assists in a 105-103 victory against the Cairns Taipans on 30 January. On 3 February 2021, Sobey was not included in the Australian Boomers 24 player squad for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

In a six game stretch from late-February to mid-March Sobey scored at least 30 points in four games, across these four games Sobey was very damaging from long range, making 20 three-pointers from 37 attempts at an accuracy of 54.1%.

Half-way through the 2021 season Brisbane import forward Vic Law who was ranked second for the team in scoring behind Sobey suffered an ankle injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Lamar Patterson played six games for the New Zealand Breakers in the 2021 NBL season but was unable to replicate the form he had with the Bullets in 2019/20. After Patterson missed seven games with a knee injury he was released by the Breakers. Patterson signed with the Brisbane Bullets on 17 March 2021 and in his return game on 7 April the Bullets defeated Illawarra Hawks 88-82.

With just under a quarter of the 2021 NBL season remaining Sobey who was ranked second in the league for scoring was recognised for his brilliant season by being added to the Boomers extended squad in May 2021 for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian commented on Sobey’s inclusion to Basketball Australia “I know that he was really disappointed at missing the initial squad, but this didn’t deter him and the way that he has responded and taken his game to another level is a lesson for all players and he thoroughly deserves this opportunity. It’s great recognition and reward for Nathan and the Bullets who have provided a platform to excel. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do when he joins our squad in that environment.”11

On being a late addition to the Boomers squad for the Tokyo Olympics Sobey told Basketball Australia “It is always a special opportunity to have the chance to represent your country and I am very grateful to be picked for the squad. I was disappointed to miss out initially, but chose to work harder and was really focused on playing well for Bullets each week and leading by example.”12

With Patterson back in the Bullets line-up Sobey had at least four assists in a game 13 times in the last 14 games of the 2021 NBL season including four games with eight assists. The Brisbane Bullets had 18 wins and 18 losses in 2021 to finish sixth, one win behind the fourth placed South East Melbourne Phoenix.

Sobey had the best NBL season of his career in 2021, averaging 21.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 34.1 minutes court-time per game. Nathan ranked eighth in the league for assists per game and third for three-pointers and free-throws made per game. Sobey set a new career-high for scoring, with his 21.06 points per game being an increase of 27.33% on his previous best of 16.54 points per game in 2019/20.

Bryce Cotton won the 2021 NBL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award with 112 votes ahead of Tyler Harvey on 74 votes with Sobey in third place on 55 votes. The trio of Cotton, Harvey and Sobey were named as the three outside players on the 2021 All-NBL First team, this team was completed by inside players John Mooney and Jock Landale.

Representing the Australian Boomers at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

On the July 10, 2021 episode of The Huddle podcast, host Liam Santamaria asked Sobey “Is it (Being named in the Boomers Olympic Games team) a dream come true, is this something you have dreamt about for a long time?” Sobey responded “Yeah, absolutely, I mean when you are a little kid and sort of look up to those guys that are playing in it. The more involved I got in basketball over time just became more driven to try and achieve this sort of thing so to get here now definitely is a dream come true.”

Sobey told the Brisbane Bullets in a video Nathan Sobey – The Journey published on the Brisbane Bullets Facebook page on 17 September 2021 “The first phone call to tell CC (Sobey’s wife) and Harley (Sobey’s daughter) that I made the team was awesome, it is hard to put in to words. Just over the moon sort of thing. To know that the sacrifices that they do on a regular basis letting me go out and just do what I do and not worry about anything else just goes further than they will ever know.”

On the Australian Boomers training camp in Las Vegas before the Tokyo Olympics Sobey told The Huddle podcast “I just asked the coaches what they really wanted from me as a role and what they wanted me to exactly go out there and do and that was to get after it on the defensive end and bring some energy and that sort of aspect. Coming into camp that was all I wanted to focus on, just doing what they wanted me to do and do that to the best of my ability and let the rest just take care of itself and see what happens.”

Playing in the NBL for the Brisbane Bullets during the 2021 season Sobey ranked second in the league for scoring and minutes played behind Perth Wildcats guard Bryce Cotton. Playing for the Australian Boomers Sobey had a very different role where he was required to be a pass-first guard, make an impact on the defensive end and was behind Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum and Chris Goulding in the guard rotation.

Before the Olympic Games the Australian Boomers had a training camp in Las Vegas and played  warm-up games Argentina, USA and Nigeria. The Boomers had never won an Olympic Medal with their best result having been fourth place four times, 1988 in Seoul, 1996 in Atlanta, 2000 in Sydney and 2016 in Rio.

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held from 23 July to 8 August 2021 all of the games in the basketball tournament were played at Saitama Super Arena. The Boomers starting line-up for their opening game of the Olympics was Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, Jock Landale and Aaron Baynes. In the Boomers second game against Italy Baynes suffered a neck injury which worsened post game and he was ruled out for the rest of the tournament. For Australia’s third game Nick Kay was brought into the starting line-up to replace Baynes.

The Australian Boomers won all three of their Group B games, in chronological order defeating Nigeria (84-67), Italy (86-83) and Germany (89-76) to finish on top of Group B. After playing less than two minutes court-time in each of the games against Nigeria and Italy Sobey played 12 minutes and 35 seconds court-time against Germany including some minutes in crunch-time. With Australia leading Germany 77-72 with six minutes and seven seconds left in the fourth quarter Sobey was substituted into the game. Sobey played the remainder of the game and during this time drew two fouls, took a rebound and made an assist as the Boomers went on a 12-4 run to win the game 89-76. Sobey made both of his field goal attempts in the game against Germany and scored four points.

In a video Talking Tokyo – Nathan Sobey on his Olympic experience published on nbl.com.au Sobey told Liam Santamaria about adjusting to his role with the Boomers “My thing was just do whatever I can to help the group, whether it be come in for 30 seconds get a defensive stop, come back out, whatever it was. Probably the first couple of games I wasn’t used to that role as such, especially in the pre-Olympic tournament, just slowly getting used to that and then I think by the tournament I was a little bit more experienced on what I was going in to do and how I was gonna help. Going into those first few games I was ready to make an impact wherever I could and if something happened maybe they ride out for a little bit longer with me and whatnot. The Germany game that happened, got a few more minutes, yeah when I was in in crunch-time in the fourth quarter I was stoked to be out there when it mattered and able to help as I could throughout the whole tournament.”

In Australia’s 97-59 quarter final victory against Argentina Sobey made an impact in eight minutes and 54 seconds court-time, scoring eight points and made two of his three three-pointers.

Against the United States of America in a semi final the Australian Boomers led 41-26 with five minutes and 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter. USA went on a 16-4 run in the remainder of the second term to reduce Australia’s lead to three points, 45 to 42 at half-time. USA dominated the third quarter 32-10 to lead by 19 points at three quarter time and went on to win by this margin, 97 to 78. In 10 minutes and 58 seconds court-time against USA Sobey scored five points, took two rebounds and made three assists.

In a video Talking Tokyo – Nathan Sobey on his Olympic experience published on nbl.com.au Sobey told Liam Santamaria “Obviously we went in with all intentions to get that gold medal and when that wasn’t the case and we were sitting in the locker room our heads were probably down a little bit Goorj came in had his speech, to be honest I was ready to play again straight after that speech and I think a few of the guys were as well. Just put it into perspective that we were still able to do something that’s never been done before (by the Boomers). Over the next 24 to 48 hours everyone did their best to keep the gold vibes still alive but we changed them to rose gold vibes. I think the group did a great job of just being able to get back into that focus and locked in, back in to what we could actually do. Obviously previous campaigns we have been so close and we have been on the other end of that where we have had our heads down and it has transferred into that game that maybe cost us or maybe it didn’t but it has always been there. I think that disappointment got realised and we threw it out there that we didn’t want to experience that again, obviously the World Cup was only a couple of years ago, the same sort of situation, lose and then go to play the bronze medal game and come away with the loss so I think that motivation really fuelled us to stay locked in and I think everyone did a great job and came out ready to go right from the jump.”

Australia played Slovenia in the bronze medal game and changed their starting line-up, replacing Dellavedova with Mattisse Thybulle who was given the defensive role on two-time All-NBA first team member Luka Doncic. Patty Mills led the way with one of the greatest games ever played by a Boomer, scoring 42 points and making nine assists in Australia’s 107-93 victory which secured the bronze medal for the Boomers, the first time that the team had ever won a medal at a major championship.

Sobey played all six games for the Australian Boomers at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, averaging 2.8 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 6.4 minutes court-time per game. Sobey was one of three Boomers to make 100% of their free-throw attempts and had an accuracy of 50% for three-pointers – ranked third for Australia behind Aaron Baynes (66.7%) and Dante Exum (60%).  

Appearing on SEN SA Breakfast on 11 August, 2021 Sobey said “Just super pumped to be able to come home with that bronze medal. Obviously all of the people before us playing for the Boomers this one’s for you and obviously for Australia as well.” Later in the interview Sobey commented about the future for the Boomers, saying “After this we will sort of get back on track, this is the standard for sure now and we will try to keep moving forward and keep pushing Australian basketball.”

Upcoming 2021/22 NBL season with the Brisbane Bullets and future goals

Seven of the 12 players that averaged at least 10 minutes court-time per game for the Brisbane Bullets in 2021 are returning for the 2021/22 season – Sobey, Patterson, Anthony Drmic, Jason Cade, Tyrell Harrison, Tanner Krebs and Tamuri Wigness. After coaching the Brisbane Bullets for five seasons from 2016/17 to 2021 Andrej Lemanis has left the club and the Bullets head coach for the 2021/22 season is Canadian James Duncan who has been appointed for two years. Duncan has been the Lead Assistant Coach of the Sydney Kings in the past two NBL seasons.  

On the goals for the rest of his basketball career Sobey told the 94 & More podcast “Mine is pretty simple, I haven’t won an NBL Championship yet, I feel like I have been close a few times and that’s it for me. I’m gonna always keep working on my game and keep getting better and try and do whatever I can in that sort of aspect but at the end of the day it is simple, I just want to win a championship and it is sort of at that time now where it is whatever it takes sort of thing. You know early days you want to just play, you want to prove that you can play at this level so that is how its been for me and I think moving forward it is kind of flip that switch, just do whatever it takes to win games so that we can get that opportunity to compete for a championship.”

Epilogue

The typical pathway for Australian NBL players is to represent their state at several under-age national championships and progress to represent Australia at under-age level. Nathan Sobey has demonstrated that there are multiple pathways you can take to achieve your end goal. Throughout his basketball career Sobey has started off having limited playing opportunities on several teams including at College level with Cochise and Wyoming and in the NBL with the Adelaide 36ers.

On The Huddle podcast Sobey said “Coming into the NBL I was sort of overlooked as well, never played in any state teams or anything like that and some guys think that you have to go down that route or you’ve really got not much opportunity at all. To be able to go the way I went about it and figure a way to make it no matter what the situation was, I am just hoping that kids growing up see that sort of thing and think if they don’t make those state teams or they don’t make whatever it is just to stick with it, there is always going to be another way to try and get to where you want to be.”

With his work ethic, resilience and professionalism Sobey ensured that he was able to steadily move up his team’s roster on several teams and grasp increased opportunities when they presented, sometimes due to teammates getting injured. With the success Sobey has achieved throughout his career, including being selected on All-NBL teams and winning medals with the Australian Boomers at international tournaments he has well and truly demonstrated that there are multiple pathways to reach your desired destination.

Article and photographs by Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

References 

1 https://www.instagram.com/p/CRFjAAjhte7/

2 https://www.warrnambool.vic.gov.au/city-information

3 https://www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com/single-post/2018/05/13/nathan-sobey-athletic-development-and-some-lessons-for-other-killers-out-there-from-one-o

4 https://www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com/single-post/2018/05/13/nathan-sobey-athletic-development-and-some-lessons-for-other-killers-out-there-from-one-o

5 https://www.ballaratbasketball.com/sobey-joins-nbls-cairns-taipans/

https://www.adelaide36ers.com/news/article/the-rise-and-rise-of-nathan-sobey

https://www.adelaide36ers.com/news/article/the-rise-and-rise-of-nathan-sobey

8 https://www.smh.com.au/sport/basketball/nbl-nathan-sobey-takes-game-to-new-levels-as-his-adelaide-36ers-chase-championship-20161231-gtk7rj.html

9 https://nbl.com.au/news/article/injuries-slow-sobey-summer-league-campaign

10 https://www.brisbanebullets.com.au/news/article/bullets-load-up-with-sobey

11 https://australia.basketball/blog/2021/05/20/nathan-sobey-added-to-boomers-olympic-squad/

12 https://australia.basketball/blog/2021/05/20/nathan-sobey-added-to-boomers-olympic-squad/

Milestones and Misses

Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey sportspeople have had during their career.

A link to Milestones and Misses homepage is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/

The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015 and in the past 18 months articles have been published on the following sportspeople:

WNBL

Tessa Lavey

Ezi Magbegor

Maddison Rocci

Steph Talbot

Zitina Aokuso

Leilani Mitchell

Cayla George

Maddie Garrick

Sara Blicavs

Bec Cole

AFL

Jack Steele

Luke Jackson

Harry McKay

Seb Ross

Nicky Winmar

Jayden Short

Clayton Oliver

Lenny Hayes

Rowan Marshall

AFLW

Georgia Patrikios

Alyce Parker

Tyla Hanks

Tyanna Smith

Tarni White

Caitlin Greiser

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