Nathan Sobey was likely the most exciting NBL star in 2016/17 and the Most Improved Player was perhaps the hottest free agent, but he has unfinished business with the Adelaide 36ers.
As a result, Sobey has recommitted to the Sixers and re-signed for a further two years both because he felt a sense of loyalty for the opportunity provided by the club and coach Joey Wright, and wanting to make amends for the way last season ended.
Sobey arrived in Adelaide for the 2015/16 season after a year as a development player in Cairns following his time at the University of Wyoming.
He had shown flashes of what he could do with the Snakes in limited opportunities but had more of a chance to deliver in his first season in Adelaide.
Then this season recently completed, Sobey went to another level playing with tremendous confidence and athleticism to prove virtually unstoppable in the open floor and more than capable of finishing at, and above, the rim not to mention knocking down his shots.
His passion was infectious for teammates and supporters alike. He was rewarded with the Most Improved Award at season’s end as part of an Adelaide team that finished on top of the table before losing to the Illawarra Hawks in the semi finals.
All that meant that once Sobey was a free agent this off-season, there wasn’t a club in the land not interested in his services.
While he listened and looked at the offers, the reality was Adelaide was where he wanted to be and he’s delighted and relieved to have his re-signing done.
“To be honest I’m glad it’s all done and I’m ready for it to be announced and everything,” Sobey told NBL Media.
“It is a nice process to go through with free agency, but you still have to weigh up your options and it does take a toll on what you’re doing. I’m pretty glad it’s over. It was going to take a lot for me to move places and want to experience playing somewhere else.
“It was a pretty easy decision for me on where I wanted to be and where I wanted to continue playing, and keep improving from. There was definitely other offers that make you think, but I knew where I wanted to be and where we wanted to be in terms of me and my fiancée. That was definitely in Adelaide.”
Having Wright recommit as coach of the 36ers as well was a big factor in Sobey deciding to remain in Adelaide and to continue their journey together.
“Obviously the main reason I moved to Adelaide was to learn under Joey and I still think I have a lot to learn. The fact that he is staying as coach is obviously a huge part in why I’ve decided to stay in Adelaide,” he said.
“Another huge factor as one of the big reasons I wanted to stay in Adelaide was because of how far we’ve come and how much further we’ve got to go still. We’ve got that unfinished business and hopefully we can move forward from it.”
Wright, too, couldn’t be happier with having Sobey locked away for the 36ers for the next two seasons.
“I think it’s great for the club to re-sign him. Having a player like that who can impact the game at both ends of the floor is important,” Wright said.
“For us he can rebound the basketball, he plays defence and he can obviously score. Having a player that can have that sort of effect on both sides of the court is really important for us.”
Sobey never lacked the confidence that he could deliver huge in the NBL, but he just needed someone to back him in and provide that opportunity.
That is what has happened the past two seasons in Adelaide largely thanks to Wright. While it might have been the unfortunate injury to captain Mitch Creek that skyrocketed him further, Sobey is proud that he fully grasped those increased opportunities and responsibility heaped upon him.
“I was always waiting for an opportunity and as bad as it was for Creeky to go down at the start of the season, it was really the best thing that could have happened for me to get more opportunity,” Sobey said.
“That’s just the way the situation went and it really opened the door up for me to get that little bit more opportunity. I knew I had been waiting for that and I’m just glad I took that opportunity and never looked back.”
While last season was so successful in a lot of ways for the 36ers claiming the club’s first minor premiership since 2000, the way it finished losing Game 3 of the semi-final series on their home floor to Illawarra has left a sour taste for Sobey.
He will be using that as some added motivation now next season and it stung so much he couldn’t even bring himself to watch the resultant Grand Final Series.
But it also as a big reason for him to return to Adelaide because of that feeling of unfinished business.
“I think that will be our driving force for next season because of how far we had come but we let it slip towards the end of the season. We’ll have that mentality that we have to do everything we can to get back there again. We know it’s not going to be easy though,” he said.
“I think I have seen a couple of highlights and that’s all I really watched. To be honest I couldn’t bring myself to watch it because of how far we had come and thinking that we should have been there.
“It is what it is and at the end of the day the two teams that came to play at the right time were in the Grand Final, but it was too soon for me to turn around and watch it. I had to take a step back.”
Since the season ended, Sobey has travelled to Greece to play with PAOK BC.
Despite the culture and language adjustments he’s had to quickly get used to, he is enjoying the experience and has no doubt it will help him be even better next season in the NBL.
“It’s different that’s for sure, but it’s good. Having a coach that doesn’t speak a lot of English and having to translate a lot of what he says takes a while to get used to, but I think I’m starting to a bit more now,” he said.
“I’ve been here for almost a month now and I’m starting to get a pretty good gist of how everything’s working and working out what way we are supposed to be doing things on the court.
“I definitely hope this will help me improve and from the experience over the last few weeks and playing against good teams and players, it has been a good experience to see what to do in certain areas.
“It is definitely a great learning experience and I’ve definitely been able to work on some stuff while I’m over here. I definitely feel like it will be better for me moving forward.”
Sobey is enjoying the lifestyle in Thessaloniki as well and it certainly helped to have his fiancée make the journey with him.
“The living situation outside of basketball is great. The city is really nice and on the water and they are really great people around here. It’s a lot easier when it’s like that,” Sobey said.
“Outside of the team there’s not too many people who speak English here so we are the only ones really who really can have a conversation together. Everyone else is pretty short and sharp in what we talk about because they don’t have that fluency in English.”