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Why Evan Mobley is poised to be the next Onyeka Okongwu for USC

Rancho Christian's Evan Mobley competes in the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
Rancho Christian’s Evan Mobley competes in the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., in January. Mobley, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, is looking forward to his freshman season at USC.
(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

With less than three weeks before its season opener, USC continued to march through its preseason preparation with a scrimmage Thursday. The team organized two 20-minute games, using conference officials. The coaches mixed up the teams for each game.

Evan Mobley’s team won both times.

Winning is what the star freshman came to USC to do, although the McDonald’s All-American has loftier goals than intrasquad scrimmages. He’ll get his first chance for an official college win Nov. 25 when the Trojans open the season against Cal Baptist. The rest of the COVID-19-shortened schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, coach Andy Enfield said Friday during a video conference.

Mobley is the highest-ranked recruit to ever choose USC, where the nation’s No. 1 recruit joins his older brother Isaiah, a sophomore forward, and father Eric, an assistant coach. The youngest Mobley averaged 20.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.2 blocks and 4.6 assists during his senior season at Temecula Rancho Christian and was named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list Friday. The award goes to the nation’s top center.

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USC wants to start off the season strong against Arizona State following an offseason that saw many changes to the Trojans’ coaching staff.

The player Mobley will replace was a finalist for the award last year. Onyeka Okongwu, who averaged 16.2 points. 8.6 and 2.7 blocks per game in his one year with the Trojans, is now poised to become a lottery pick in this month’s NBA draft.

“We think Evan Mobley will be able to fill Onyeka’s statistics,” Enfield said. “They’re both super athletes, both long and they’re both very skilled around the basket finishing with both hands. So there are a lot of similarities with Onyeka and Evan but they are different type of players as a whole.”

Okongwu was undersized at 6 feet 9, but powerfully built at 245 points. Mobley, at 7 feet and 210 pounds, runs like a guard and can pass like one too. Enfield predicts that the star recruit will average more than four assists per game this season and may even flirt with double-digit assists in certain games.

Playing with his older brother growing up, Evan said, he often was relegated to playing guard because he was one of the smaller players. When he grew, he moved positions, taking his skills to the post, where he would pass to the perimeter as seamlessly as he blocked shots.

Now he stuns teammates and coaches with his ability on both ends of the court. When he volleyball-blocked guard Tahj Eaddy at practice recently, rejecting a jump shot, gathering the ball and taking it for a breakaway dunk, everyone in the gym went silent in shock.

Freshman Parker Lewis will be starting at kicker instead of Chase McGrath when USC opens the season Saturday against Arizona State.

Mobley just instinctually went for the block, he explained Friday on a video conference.

“I’m not trying to make big, big plays all the time,” Mobley said modestly, “but it happens sometimes.”

Coaches are working with Mobley to improve his shooting, especially from long distance. Adjusting to the physicality and speed of the college game has been the most difficult part of the recent transition, Mobley said.

He finds support from his brother, as they love playing together with fellow teammates Ethan Anderson and Noah Baumann. Isaiah, one of only three players returning with playing experience at USC, is stepping up as a vocal leader for the team, along with Anderson, the point guard.

“We mess up on stuff because we’re freshmen,” Evan Mobley said, “but [Isaiah] does a good job of coming back and being a solid leader for us on and off the floor.”


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