By Austin Wald and Daniel Tice
Sports Editor, Core Staff
Headline Suggestion (after writing article): The man behind camera: Mario Thomallari ‘16 uses social media brand, Just Lobs, to highlight St. Louis hoopers
Just Lobs has become a brand well known to all St. Louis hoop fans, amassing over 82,000 followers across various social media platforms by posting highlight tapes of St. Louis basketball stars. He has filmed at North Carolina, Ohio State, Saint Louis University, and Mizzou and has worked alongside NBA superstars like Ja Morant and Jayson Tatum. Just Lobs’ high-quality content has been reposted by ESPN and Bleacher Report, which has received millions of likes, comments, and reposts. But behind the camera is a man who is living the dream that began in the hallways of St. Louis U. High.
Mario Thomallari ’16 first got into filming basketball when he noticed that Ballislife, a prominent basketball content producer, wasn’t paying enough attention to underrated basketball players in St. Louis, especially Brandon McKissic ’17. As the SLUH basketball manager, Thomalarri was close to McKissic and knew that he deserved more attention than he was getting. So Thomalarri took matters into his own hands and used his experience with the SLUHTube club to capture McKissic’s ball-playing ability.
“I kind of took a look at Ballislife and what they were doing in the area covering Jayson Tatum, Tyler Cook, and Mikey Lewis. I saw what they were doing and was a little upset,” said Thomallari. “Brandon McKissic, who was at SLU High, wasn't getting that same kind of attention and I thought Brandon McKissic was up there and could hang with the big dogs so I was kind of upset. So I guess I kind of took it upon myself and decided that I was going to use SLUHTube equipment to start filming those games and start making these videos for the players on the SLUH basketball team.”
After Thomallari graduated from SLUH in 2016, he attended Saint Louis University and double majored in marketing and sports business. In his free time, he continued filming SLUH basketball, mostly to capture McKissic’s senior season and post it on YouTube. By the time McKissic graduated in 2017 and headed to UMKC to play basketball, Thomallari felt a calling to cover underrated hoopers in the St. Louis area as a whole and not only at SLUH.
“After McKissic graduated, I was like, you know what? St. Louis has a lot of guys that are underrated and a lot of people that need coverage and Ballislife wasn’t really hanging around anymore after Tatum graduated. So you know, I kind of took it upon myself to start doing that,” said Thomallari. “I got in touch with Coach Bennett at Chaminade and he let me come up and film a couple of open gyms. Then that turned into me covering them for the season, then I started filming at more schools and at some point eventually went to covering all of St. Louis.”
In the fall of 2017, Thomallari officially launched his now iconic brand “Justlobsofficial,” on Instagram and Twitter to garner more attention to St. Louis basketball. Although he didn’t initially have any plans to make film into a career or produce beyond the scope of St. Louis, Thomallari propelled Just Lobs to have enough accreditation to film college and professional basketball.
“I'm not sure when I decided I really wanted to get things going or make it into a career. Making it into a career was never a goal. The goal was always just to cover St. Louis as much as possible,” said Thomallari.
Thomallari learned that relationships were the most important part of growing Just Lobs. He credits a lot of his success to the star players in the St. Louis area when he was still in high school.
“McKissic was the first player that got me into filming so my relationship with him is strong,” said Thomallari. “Other than that, growing relationships with Jericole Hellems, Courtney Ramey, Terrence Watson, and EJ Liddell. Those relationships make my career. If I don’t have those relationships, there's not much else that separates me from anyone else who wants to do what I do.”
The Instagram page grew at a steady rate for the first couple of years, consistently gaining a few thousand followers each year, and Thomallari was able to transfer the Just Lobs brand into other social media outlets, especially Tiktok and YouTube. His most viewed video on YouTube, currently sitting at 1.4 Million views, is a private run featuring Ja Morant. Thomallari credits the opportunity to his relationships.
“I wasn’t tied to Ja Morant at the time,” said Thomallari. “I was tied to Mokan Elite and was going to film Kennedy Chandler, who was the number one point guard in the country, and it just so happened that Morant was there and I got to film him.”
It was important for Thomallari to create relationships with players and keep them. He knew how important they were to him so he kept in frequent contact with many standout St. Louis players who have gone on to play college or professionally. However, he doesn’t see them as means to fulfill his goals; he values the friendship and trust that they’ve built.
“Some people view others as stepping stones and that's an awful way to look at life,” said Thomallari. “I'm a strong believer that you are your relationships and you are your word.”
As the players he filmed grew, so did Thomallari. Just Lobs went from filming at the Danis Field House to the Dean Smith Center.
“I just continued shooting with players I had a strong bond with,” said Thomallari, “My first college game outside of St. Louis was last season filming EJ Liddell at Ohio State, and then I filmed (Caleb) Love this season at North Carolina in their last college seasons. Liddell is on the Pelicans now and I was planning on going down to film him there, but he tore his ACL, and with Love, if he makes it to the league I will try to film him too.”
Just Lobs was created to be the number one source on St. Louis basketball and shine a light on players that deserve the spotlight, and Thomallari does not see that changing in the near future. He wants to expand his team and be able to produce more content, but when the camera isn’t in his hands, anything can happen.
“I want enough people to assist me in covering what I can’t myself,” said Thomallari “But, I struggle with delegating tasks to others because I have a standard of quality with everything on Just Lobs.”
Thomollari’s standard of high quality launched him into a job as a digital producer on “In-Depth with Graham Bensinger,” a series with 13 seasons running that showcases big names in sports and entertainment in extensive interviews. What stood out to Thomallari’s employers weren’t his degrees, but the qualities in his videos posted on Just Lobs.
Every post on Just Lobs has to pass Thomallari’s bar of quality, and, because of that, the biggest sports social media companies have caught on. One viral clip of Jayson Tatum blocking his son Deuce at a Chaminade camp was reposted by ESPN twice, Bleacher Report, Sports Center, and House of Highlights. Those four accounts have over one hundred million combined followers, and Just Lobs was tagged in all four.
“The reposts help a lot,” said Thomallari. “It gets my content out to a wider audience, and by growing my brand, I can direct that attention back to St. Louis.”
However, getting reposted is a double-edged sword. When millions of people get access to a video, it can spread like wildfire and, in most cases, that means Just Lobs is not getting credit. The biggest example is with Shaqtin a Fool, a TNT pregame segment hosted by Shaquill O’Neal as well as a popular Twitter account.
“(Shaqtin a Fool) never asked for permission to post it, and never tagged me either. So now, I have to file a copyright strike. So, the reposts help a lot but as a creator who puts a lot of time into the content it’s frustrating when I don’t get credit when credit is due.”
As for Thomallari’s future plans with Just Lobs, he wants to broaden his influence and brand while sticking to his roots with St. Louis-centered content instead of expanding to cover players of all backgrounds as most producers of his caliber and following would be expected to do.
“I see myself still keeping things going around St. Louis,” said Thollamari. “Whether it be in the NBA, whether it be somewhere else, I want to cover these guys and document their journeys through basketball in some fashion with the relationships I've already established.”
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