LOS ANGELES — It seems that for most of Isaiah Mobley’s career, whether at USC, Rancho Christian, or Compton Magic, he played next to his brother, Evan, or another A-list biggie like Oneka Okongwu. In fact, the last time Mobli had their New Year’s at Rancho Christian.
How was that year? Well, Mobley led the Eagles to the CIF-Southern section title in the championship game with a 17-point, 17-rebound, and four-block stat line.
“He’s a winner,” said his father, Eric.
Now a junior at USC, Mobley will get the keys to the Trojans car. Okongwu and Evan have moved to the NBA, and Tahaj Eddie, the second leading scorer from last year’s Elite Eight, has also turned pro.
Mobley had his own flirtation with the idea of going pro. He declared for the draft after the March breakout, shooting 66.7% from 3-point range during the postseason and averaging 13.8 points and 6.3 rebounds.
A strong showing at the NBA Combine earned Mobley some individual workouts with the teams. The estimates he received from teams ranged from second-round selection to a two-way contract to the G-League.
“It wasn’t quite as accurate as you wanted to hear, and it was far from over draft,” Mobley said. “Teams can only tell so much.”
Before the July deadline to return to school, Mobley sat down for a family meeting, weighing the pros and cons before eventually deciding to return for his junior season.
“It was tough enough. He wants to be there with his brother as well as Big O,” said Eric, an assistant at USC. “There isn’t a crowd. Here are his friends. It’s not bad to be back in ‘SC’.
“The main focus was just development,” Mobley added in the drafting process. “I was going to use this process to walk away, focus on myself, and get better. So if I left to go I felt ready, and if I got back here, I felt ready.” done and I could have helped the team even more.”
Mobley has looked to be playing with more confidence during practice this pre-season. He’s done his hot shoots since the end of last season, and is taking moves he hasn’t deployed before.
One practice, he went to the basket, Pump gave a pass to a shooter and ended up on a defender to jump out of the glass.
“We want him to be more aggressive and try more shots off the field this year,” said head coach Andy Enfield.
It won’t look like Okongwu or Evan, the more traditional big who ended up with a post move. Mobely wants to do it its own way, playing in and out. He understands that to find the right balance between scoring and playmaking as a primary option, the season starting Tuesday against Cal State Northridge will take time.
But he doesn’t want to play with an “agenda” with his eyes on what needs to be done for the NBA. He just wants to play to win, and to make sure there are no letdowns after last season’s NCAA Tournament gets underway.
“We can’t have that championship hangover where we scored that run and we’re still at that high,” Mobley said. “We have to level ourselves up, humble ourselves and go back to that.”
And has he seen this from his teammates this season?
“We are even better. I think we are deeper, and I think honestly we are a little low based on the Precision Rankings,” Mobley said. “Everyone has a right to have an opinion, and I Not saying they are wrong. But we’ve got a chip on our shoulder just like last year.”
Coach: Andy Enfield, 9th season
Last year’s records: 25-8 overall, 15-5 in Pac-12
End of season: Elite loses to Gonzaga in eight
Top returners: Isaiah Mobley, Jr., F, 6-10 (9.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg); Drew Peterson, Sr., G, 6-9 (9.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Isaiah White, Sr., G, 6-7 (7.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Top Newcomer: Boogie Ellis, G, Memphis, 6-3
Coach’s Quote: “We’re excited about the development of our players. We’ll see if they go to production when the lights are on.” — Andy Enfield