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Matt Mobley, who starred at SPM and Worcester Academy, in midst of playoff run in Poland

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WARSAW, Poland – It is not uncommon for top North American basketball players with a Division I pedigree to change professional teams in the middle of the season in leagues overseas.

In top European leagues for instance, imports with a top-flight NCAA resume can be looked at as hired guns – they are expected to carry more than their share of the scoring load, and if things go south for their team guess who gets a one-way ticket out of town?

Worcester native Matt Mobley, 29, who finished his college career at St. Bonaventure of the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2018, knows this scenario all too well. A product of St. Peter-Marian and Worcester Academy, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard joined a team in Poland in March after playing a few games earlier in the year for a team in France.

“I started the season in Taiwan and after a few months I went to France,” he said on Wednesday. “I decided to change agents and once I hired a new agent, he was able to come up (with a job in) Poland for me. So, I decided to come to Poland for the rest of the season. I am with a good team.”

Poland, a country of about 40 million in Eastern Europe, becomes the latest stop for the 6-foot-5 shooting guard, who turns 30 in September. Mobley has played pro ball for teams in Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, the Philippines, Turkey, Taiwan and now Poland.

This is the third time the Massachusetts native has changed teams in the middle of a season overseas and the “third our fourth” time he has changed agents at the pro level, which began in 2018 after a standout college career that began at Central Connecticut.

“It is definitely harder than being with the team to start the year,” he said. “But is not too difficult. The hardest part is learning the plays and figuring out the team plays and each guy’s role. But it does not take too long to adjust since the coaches do a great job of telling you about the team and the city. The professionalism makes it very easy.”

Mobley certainly impressed his new team, King of Szczecin, a city in the northwest corner of Poland just east of the German border and home to about 390,000 people.

In his first game he had 14 points in just 21 minutes of play on March 14 as host King beat Dziki of Warsaw, 90-72.

An American guard for Dziki is Matt Coleman III, a native of Virginia who played at the University of Texas.

“Not surprised,” Coleman said of the outing by Mobley. “He came from a prominent league (in the Atlantic 10) and can really shoot the ball. We did not make it any harder for him. The whole team was hitting on all cylinders that day.”

Playoffs in Poland

King ended regular season play 19-11 and as the No. 4 seed has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series in the quarterfinals and played Saturday at No. 5 Legia, a storied franchise in Warsaw that was also 19-11 during the season. With a series win, King would advance to the semifinals.

Mobley had 13 points and two assists in just 19 minutes off the bench in Thursday’s loss.

Mobley, dealing with a minor, nagging injury, had four points in 12 minutes in Game 1 on May 2 and was held scoreless but had two assists in 12 minutes off the bench in Game 2 on May 4 as King won 80-77.

Other Americans on his team include North Carolina native Zac Cuthbertson, who played at Coastal Carolina; Avery Woodson, who is from Mississippi and played at Butler in Indiana; Michale Kyser, a Texas native who played at Louisiana Tech; and Texas native Morris Udeze, who ended his college career at New Mexico last year.

The top Polish league, ORLEN, requires that at least one Polish player is always on the court for each team in the 40-minute, four quarter games. An American with another team in Poland said the salary for Americans can vary widely, from $3,000 to $15,000 per month in a season that can last 10 months.

Like most Americans who had solid NCAA careers, Mobley has been provided the free use of an apartment and car throughout his career overseas. As a visiting player in international competition, he has also been to Italy, Greece, Russia, Lithuania, Israel, The Netherlands and, several years ago, Poland in Champions League action.

“As a player, I definitely loved Spain,” he said. “I was about one and half hours away from Barcelona, which may be the best city in the world. That was my favorite (country) by far.”

His pro career got off to rocky start.

“It was definitely a culture shock my first few weeks in Belgium,” he said of his first pro league overseas. “I wanted to go home. It was a lot for me. Once I finally got adjusted, I loved it. There is a lot more freedom than college. I do not have any class. I love the lifestyle now.”

He also had to adjust on the court to FIBA rules that are different than the NCAA.

“I got called for traveling six or seven times in my first game in Belgium,” he said. “And you are going against kids in college and grown men overseas.”

Challenges abroad

Most Americans who have played overseas a few years have at least one horror story – and Mobley is no different. He played during the 2019-20 season for a team in Turkey whose owner stopped paying players during a losing streak. That team no longer exists.

“I won’t see that money again,” said Mobley, even though he averaged more than 20 points per contest for that club in Turkey. He did not get paid for two or three months.

“Other than that, I have been blessed,” he said.

Another challenge then was political tensions between Turkey and Syria.

“I was nervous at first” about safety, he said. “But I was pretty safe.”

Mobley does not have as many ties to Worcester these days.

His father lives in Tennessee, his mother and older sister are in Alabama, a younger sister goes to school in California, and he spends the summer months in southern California, training for the next season. Some of his family visited him in Belgium his first pro season.

Basketball has taken him around the world.

After playing in the NBA Summer League for Utah in 2018, he was faced with a decision many of his American peers also experience: play in the G League and hope to get picked up by an NBA team or head overseas with a chance to make more money.

“At that time, players in the G League weren’t making a lot of money,” he said. “I realized I can make double that my first year” by coming to Europe.

That decision has paid off, and now Mobley hopes to be part of a championship team in Poland after another midseason transition.

—Virginia native David Driver, who now lives in Poland, is the author of “Hoop Dreams in Europe: American Basketball Players Building Careers Overseas.” The book is available on Amazon or the author’s website at daytondavid.com. He has interviewed American basketball players in nearly 20 countries and lived for three years in Hungary with his family. Driver is the former sports editor of papers in Baltimore and Arlington and Harrisonburg in Virginia.

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