“Meet the Mobleys” is a five-part series about Isaiah, Evan and Eric Mobley’s relationship and impact on USC basketball.
Isaiah Mobley is a rare breed of basketball player, with a 6-foot-10-inch build of a big man infused with legitimate guard skills. At Rancho Christian School, this combination of dexterity and size allowed him to score and defend with ease, but varsity coach Ray Barefield particularly appreciated his peripheral contributions to the team.
“He has a very high IQ,” he says. “I remember drawing up certain plays and Isaiah would even add little nuances, little variations that he would bring into it out of a huddle … and we, the coaching staff, would say, ‘You know what, let’s start running that.’”
Between the brothers, Isaiah’s always been known as the boisterous one. Barefield describes his personality as “a little more Hollywood,” which not only encompasses his eye for fashion, but also his fiery nature in games. Isaiah’s certainly not short on competitiveness, and coaches laud him for his desire to win, even if it comes with some sacrifice.
Coming into last season, Isaiah found himself vying for minutes alongside two other big men in senior Nick Rakocevic and fellow freshman and potential NBA lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu. Although Isaiah was initially billed as a starter, the fit was suboptimal. Not only was he relegated to a perimeter role outside his comfort zone, the team also suffered from a positional imbalance.
When Enfield faced a tough decision to bench one of the forwards, Isaiah’s cooperation made it easier.
“He actually suggested to come off the bench instead of starting, so he could play more of his natural position, and I agreed,” Enfield said.
Isaiah accepted the reserve role in stride, thrived as the team’s sixth man and stayed ready when opportunity came calling late in the season. With an NCAA tournament bid hanging in the balance, Isaiah had to fill in for an injured Okongwu against a tough Washington team. Ultimately, USC eked out a victory behind his scoring, rebounding and tough defense against the NBA-bound Isaiah Stewart.
As a USC assistant coach, it’s Eric’s job to focus on the team. When Isaiah was moved to the bench and the season depended on the coach’s cooperation, Eric made sure his paternal pride never got in the way.
“Eric deserves a lot of credit because he is all about the team and doing what’s best for every player,” Enfield says. “He treats everybody the same and doesn’t show favoritism.”
But there are still times where it’s impossible to separate the coach from the father.
“There’s no difference,” Eric said about balancing the two responsibilities, before adding, “You just get excited about certain moves. A little pride jumps in the heart.”
Enfield also gave Isaiah credit for being receptive to his father’s criticism in practice.
“My son is nine years old and when I try to say something to him, sometimes he doesn’t want to hear it,” Enfield remarked. “I’m sure there were many times this year when Isaiah would look at Eric as a dad and think ‘I don’t want to hear it right now!’”
This upcoming season, Isaiah returns to the team with a year of experience under his belt and an expanded opportunity. With Rakocevic graduating and Okongwu headed for the NBA, he’ll have a new challenge awaiting: incorporating his younger brother into the family-basketball dynamic.
As a sophomore, he’ll also be one of the longest-tenured Trojans on the team after an offseason of major roster overhaul. USC’s success will largely hinge on Isaiah’s talent and leadership, and if reputation serves as any indication, he’ll be up to the task.