“Meet the Mobleys” is a five-part series about Isaiah, Evan and Eric Mobley’s relationship and impact on USC basketball.
For both Evan and Isaiah, the year apart was a step outside of their comfort zone.
It wasn’t the first time that they’d played on separate teams (Isaiah would sometimes play in an older age group than Evan), but it was the only time up to that point that they’d led two completely separate lifestyles: Isaiah was immersed in the collegiate experience at USC, while Evan endured the final stretch of high school at Rancho Christian, over 90 miles away.
Up until last year, the Mobley brothers’ bond was no different than that of any other two siblings growing up together, aside from the fact that they were two of the most highly touted basketball prospects in the country.
Their relationship, like that of so many brothers, is rooted in competition. Neither ever wanted to lose to the other in anything: the swimming races, the video games, the ping pong matches and, of course, the basketball. When they were younger, one-on-one games would occasionally become so heated that the pair would come to blows.
The competitive edge they shared motivated the brothers to improve alongside one another, each clawing for the upper hand. Even as the pair matured and the one-on-one games became less frequent, the brotherly one-upmanship persisted.
“Even when we work out, if he does a certain dunk or move pretty well, then I want to do it even better,” Isaiah said. “I think it makes us better overall, the constant competition.”
Iron has sharpened iron when it comes to Isaiah and Evan Mobley, and the product is two players who, individually, have a special and unique caliber of talent. But when the two join forces, they elevate to a completely different echelon of dominance.
As head of the Mobleys’ AAU team, Etop Udo-Ema had many opportunities to witness this for himself.
“They play unbelievably together,” he said. “They have some kind of sixth sense between the two of them.”
It doesn’t take much time watching the tandem play together to see what Udo-Ema is talking about. When two high-IQ players like the Mobleys spend as much time in basketball settings as Evan and Isaiah have, they are bound to develop a keen understanding of how to play with one another.
Supplement that with an unselfish style of play and what Enfield describes as a level of communication that nobody but the brothers can really comprehend, and you have a two-headed frontcourt monster capable of dictating the game at both ends of the floor. And for much of their lives, that’s exactly what the Mobleys have done.
However, the separation that Evan and Isaiah experienced last season will eventually become their permanent reality.
“This year apart [was] more like life,” Udo-Ema observed. “When they go to the NBA, they probably won’t be on the same team.”
In all likelihood, that reality will arrive sooner rather than later. Evan is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2021 draft, and Isaiah finds himself in a prime position to boost his NBA stock as soon as next season. Barring something unforeseen, next season will be the Mobley brothers’ last dance as teammates.
So what can the USC faithful expect from the Mobley duo?
“You can expect some wins from us, and just a fun brotherly connection,” Isaiah said.
Evan added, “Good chemistry. A lot of dunks.”
As fervent competitors, their expectations likely exceed what they described, but they’re not in the business of grand public proclamations. Neither is their father, always one to emphasize the basics of basketball. The former professional understands that his sons’ success depends upon their mastery of the fundamentals.
“Box out, rebound, push the ball, you know … play unselfish,” he said.
The Mobley family, as expected, is more inclined to allow their play to speak for itself. Those who have been around the family, however, are more openly enthusiastic about the brothers’ prospects for next season.
“The fans can expect two people who are going to be dedicated to winning and do the things that matter to help win games — the rebounding, the blocks, the running the floor, the skills playing together … They’re gonna complement each other and make each other more productive,” Barefield said.
“USC is getting an unbelievable family. Kids and parents,” Udo-Ema added. “They’re not going to have them for long, but they’re just getting a great group of people. They’re getting a great, well-rounded family that just spits out integrity.”
The spotlight will be on the Mobleys this season, as one of the most intriguing stories in what is sure to be a unique year for college hoops. That much attention has the ability to corrupt; many start gravitating toward the theatrics and away from the essence of basketball, and sport itself. Not this basketball family.
For Eric, Isaiah and Evan, the stage has never been bigger, the moment never more ripe for virality and stardom, and they’ll meet this moment with the extraordinary humility they’ve exhibited their entire lives.
It’s a fitting end to what is likely to be this trio’s last ride.