Isaiah Mobley heads into March Madness with one eye on the NBA
Los Angeles — It was the week before the 2021 NBA draft, and then-University of Southern California sophomore Isaiah Mobley was second-guessing himself.
After a stellar season with USC, helping them to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, he’d entered the draft alongside his brother Evan, who’d also had a standout year with the Trojans.
Evan left USC after just a year. He was drafted third overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and went on to have one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory. But after agonizing over the decision, Isaiah, the older, cooler head, opted to return to Los Angeles for another year to play college ball.
“My decision came on the very, very last day, my pre-draft process was great. I had some good workouts with some teams and did well. And I was just like on the borderline between like one day I was leaving and the next day I was going back to school. I just didn’t know,” he told “CBS Mornings” after a Thursday practice at USC’s Galen Center. “But they allowed me to grow and get a lot better. And so at the end of day, I felt I made the right decision.”
It was a remarkably mature decision for a young athlete, barely into his 20s. And from USC’s perspective, a useful one. He’s stepped up to replace Evan as one of the team’s most effective players, averaging 14.6 points, 3.1 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game.
He’s developed into a leader, standing courtside at practice to yell instructions and encouragement at his teammates as they work through drills and games. Alongside him is his other confidante: his father, Eric Mobley, now an assistant coach for USC. An itinerant pro, Mobley Sr. returned to the U.S. from playing stints overseas to raise his family, instilling a love of the sport in his two boys from an early age. Isaiah’s first word, the player told CBS News, was “ball.”
“Basketball was always around, always on TV, [we were] always talking about basketball,” Evan Mobley, the family’s NBA superstar-in-the-making, told CBS News via Zoom from Cleveland. “So it was all natural for us. We just came in and really just been around it for our whole lives.”
And for at least the early part of those lives, it was a fiercely competitive element. His father remembers watching from the kitchen window as the two of them honed the skills in the backyard that would take them to the elite level. It often wasn’t pretty.
“They’re night and day… they would sometimes get into a little scuffle and I had to run out there and break them up. But they would get the one-on-one battles and you know, and you know, you could see it from the kitchen area. You can watch him. And sometimes I let my wife say why I don’t call, let him go, you know, let him work it out … But there was some tough battles back there.”
But perhaps without those tough battles, the brothers Mobley wouldn’t have made it to where they are today – Isaiah leading his team into the National Championships and Evan a strong bet for Rookie of the Year in the NBA.
“You know, he’s a great player, and I’ve been with him all my life, so it’s definitely different for me,” Isaiah said. “But I’m glad he made a decision to go. And I think we’ve gotten better both from being apart.”
Isaiah fully expects to reenter the draft this year – and unless the Cavs are lucky enough to pick him, he’ll be meeting his brother on the court in different uniforms for the first time.
It’d be exciting, and different, to be competitors at the sport’s pinnacle. But before that, USC’s 6-foot-10 forward has to prove that he can continue the form that made USC one of the most feared PAC 12 teams this season — and take the seventh-seeded Trojans as far as possible in this year’s March Madness.