NEWTON — When Newton North coach Paul Connolly allowed players a water break during the third and final night of varsity tryouts last week, junior captain Tommy Mobley remained out on the floor with a ball in his hand like he had something to prove.
Wearing a black practice jersey with the words “play hard” printed across the back, last season’s Bay State Conference MVP went to the top of the key and fired off as many jump shots as possible between drills.
“We have 60 kids trying out for very few spots,” Connolly said. “But he doesn’t look at it coming in and say, ‘I’m the man’ and coast through it. He goes at it as hard as anybody. It speaks to why he’s a junior captain. He’s a terrific leader. He sets the tone.”
Mobley — a 6-foot-2 guard with a quick release and textbook follow-through — may be considered a bit of a throwback. At a time when many of the area’s best players have migrated to preparatory schools, he has elected to continue playing at Newton North, and plans to stick around until he graduates in 2015.
“I’ve thought about it,” Mobley said. “Prep schools have contacted me about it. The thing is with me, I could go to a prep school and have gym access every day. I’d be going to a good school and I’d be playing a lot. But here at Newton North,’’ he said, Connolly and his assistant, Tom Donnellan, “are great coaches and they get me better every day. They don’t give me one play off.
“The other thing about Newton North is I’m a part of the community and I love the community here. I’ve got a lot of friends. I love the teachers here. It’s close to home. I can be with my family. I can be with my mom and dad. I’m going to get better on my own, too.”
Even in the offseason, Mobley insists that he find time every day to be inside a gym to work on his ball-handling, his moves to the hoop, and his best skill — his jump shot. If he couldn’t find regular gym access in the city, prep school may have been his next option. But he works out at Newton’s Day Middle School or at the high school gym when it’s available throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
“Here I have everything prep school can offer,” Mobley said. “And I think Newton North offers a little more.”
Mobley has considered doing a postgraduate year somewhere before his freshman year of college, but he has already received serious interest from a host of Division 1 programs including Boston University, Holy Cross, Brown, Yale, Quinnipiac, Army, Davidson, and Creighton.
A member of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club’s 10th-grade team last summer, Mobley got plenty of exposure to college coaches as well as some of the best players in New England. BABC placed fourth in the AAU National Championship in Orlando, and played more than once in front of Kentucky’s John Calipari .
While many prep schools offer greater exposure to college recruiters during the school year, Mobley has seen plenty of Tigers alumni end up playing college basketball. The list includes Craig Marriro (a senior at Southern New Hampshire), Tevin Falzon (sophomore at Sacred Heart), Michael Thorpe (sophomore at Emerson), Luke Westman (sophomore at Colby) and Mobley’s older brother, Greg Kelley (a junior at Yale).
“We grew up like regular kids anywhere, riding our bikes in the neighborhood, playing Little League baseball, playing Pop Warner,” Kelley said, “and I wanted to go to high school with the kids I grew up with since I moved to Newton in second grade. I’m sure Tommy wants the same thing.
“He’s really close with all his friends. He’s been playing sports with them for years, and those are his boys that he can fall back on. Plus, Paul Connolly’s a great coach, you’re not going to find a better coach at the high-school level. As long as he’s happy there and he’s having a good basketball experience, and he’s having a good school experience, we love Newton North and we love the city of Newton as a family,” Kelley said.
Ever since he served as a water boy for his brother’s teams at North, Mobley has been an active member of his community. An honor roll student, he finds time to work at First Baptist Church in Needham, where his father, Greg Mobley, is the senior minister.
“Since I’m his son, if he needs someone to help him with the service or read a scripture or do the offering, or if he needs someone to just help him move some stuff, then I’m the guy,” Mobley said.
He’s a baritone in two singing groups at Newton North: the Jubilee Singers (performing music from the African diaspora) and Tiger BeBop (a jazz group). He was also in a student-written play called “Grasshopper,” playing the part of a hit man, and he won a school speech contest last year.
Mobley always finds time for basketball, though. If he’s not in a gym, often with a machine called “the gun” that collects rebounds and spits back chest-high passes for more efficient workouts, he lifts weights five times a week, practices yoga, and concentrates on eating 190 grams of protein every day — one gram for each pound of his body weight.
“You can see how hard he works and everybody sees this guy’s always in the gym, and it pushes our other guys to get better,” said senior captain Jack Boucher . “It’s contagious.”
“Even though he’s a junior, he’s a leader,” said another senior captain, Liam Bruno . “He’s very mature for his age.”
For Mobley, that comes naturally.
“One of my biggest things in life is that whatever I’m doing at a certain time I want to do it to the fullest of my ability,” Mobley said. “When I sit down in biology class and the teacher is giving a lesson, I want to take the best notes I can. Out here playing basketball, I want to play as hard as I can.”
That he’s doing it all at Newton North is something both he and the surrounding community can appreciate.