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The master and apprentice

Exciting Adelaide 36ers guard Nathan Sobey is drawing on lessons from one the NBL’s greatest players as he continues his ascension towards NBL stardom. Sobey, who has been one of the standout performers of the 2016-17 season thus far, is currently being mentored by Australian Basketball Hall of Famer Al Green. A two-time NBL champion and 1982 MVP, the ‘Mean Machine’ played for the Sixers between 1985 and 1990 and helped guide the club to its first ever title in 1986. “I met Al just after I got here to Adelaide and ever since then we've been talking and our relationship, it was decent the first year, but has really taken off this second season. We talk nearly every single day,” Sobey told NBL Media this week. Brought together through mutual acquaintances, Sobey and Green instantly hit it off when they met last year. “I just saw something special in him,” Green explained. “You talk to people and you see the way they listen. I always say to the kids when I'm coaching, ‘you listen you learn, you don't listen you don't learn’. I think he's one of the guys who listens.” Green says he immediately knew that Sobey was someone he could work with when, despite the hustle and bustle of a crowded restaurant, the youngster was hanging on his every word. “Because of the way he was looking in my eyes,” Green said. “He wasn't even born when I was doing my thing but I was telling him stories about how them old days were like the wild, wild West and I was putting them up and he was just eyes wide open, saying ‘wow’.” Green holds the league’s single-game scoring record having dropped 71 points on the Frankston Bears during a dominant 1984 season with the West Adelaide Bearcats. For Sobey, described by Sixers head coach Joey Wright as having a “star work-ethic”, the chance to work with one of the greats was an opportunity too good to pass up. “He's a legend of the club and just what he's done for basketball … I knew what he had done and to get to personally meet him was another level,” Sobey said. Green and Sobey work out multiple times per week, sometimes before or after Adelaide’s team trainings, and spend other sessions discussing the psychology of the game. The workouts are intense, Sobey says, but it’s their conversations on the mental side of the sport that are having the greatest impact. The 26-year-old is a fiery customer and Green is helping him channel his emotions in a positive way. “Like me, Nathan's got that arrogant attitude like, ‘I'm not going to let you beat me, I'm coming at you and when I come at you, I'm going to take it right to you’. That's what I like about him,” Green said. “I always had a humble but nasty attitude. I’d have a drink with any of them afterwards but during the game I'm a dirty, nasty, mean Al Green. “I knew how to switch on and switch off. That's not by accident, I had to teach myself to be like that. And that's what I want Nathan to be.” Green loves an analogy, describing Sobey as “the new and improved Scott Ninnis” and suggesting the explosive guard has the potential to become the NBL’s version of Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook. “I like to call him a Westbrook,” Green said. “I want to call him that because they’re about the same height, he’s athletic like Westbrook and they both have that jump shot. I think the more confident he gets, he could be a Westbrook in this league.” One thing’s for sure, Sobey is absolutely thriving in Adelaide under Coach Wright, playing a style that is tailor-made for his skill-set and high-energy approach to the game. His backcourt pairing with Jerome Randle is also a good fit, each striking a balance between looking to score and creating for their teammates. And with in-form captain Mitch Creek going down with a foot injury in Round 2, Sobey’s improved play has been a god-send for the 36ers. Wright has elevated him into the starting lineup and the rising star has repaid the faith with game-changing energy and elite production. In a recent road win over the Bullets, Sobey was brilliant, scoring 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting and throwing 6 assists. Then in Round 3, Sobey stuffed the stat sheet against his former team, putting 15 points, 9 boards and 5 dimes on the Cairns Taipans. “I just play hard as much as I can and try and give 100 per cent every single time I step onto the floor,” Sobey said. “That's just my mentality every single time. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't but that's just the way that I play.” For Green, serving as the master to Sobey’s apprentice is about passing on the knowledge gained from a life spent in basketball. Green grew up in The Bronx, New York, and was influenced by some of New York’s finest as a youngster, superstars like Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald. This, he believes, is his chance to pay it forward. “I had some mentors over there that were helping me and it helped me get off the streets,” Green explained “So in this kind of situation, if it helps someone become a better basketball player and a better human being because people take notice of you and take interest in you and care about you, that's the main thing.” That being said, Green is realistic about the road ahead. “Nathan's going to have highs and lows because he's a young man just learning the game in the professional league. But he is so humble and hard-working, I love it,” Green said. “It just gives me a chill to see somebody so hungry that wants to be successful.” Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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