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USC’s Evan Mobley declares for NBA draft with NFT

USC forward Evan Mobley shoots over Arizona forward Ira Lee
After helping his team get to the Elite Eight, USC forward Evan Mobley declares for the NBA draft.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

The most acclaimed prospect in the history of USC hoops is officially on his way to the NBA.

Evan Mobley declared for the NBA draft on Friday, closing the final chapter of a single storybook season in which the 7-footer helped propel a program revival, swept the Pac-12 awards and led USC to the Elite Eight.

Now, after an already historic run, he’ll look to become the Trojans’ highest pick in the history of the NBA draft.

Mobley’s decision had been expected ever since he committed to USC in August 2019 as the highest rated recruit in the program’s history. But how he announced on Friday was unique. The top prospect will auction off his draft declaration as a one-of-a-kind nonfungible token (NFT) titled “League Bound.”

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“I’ve dreamed about turning pro since I was a kid,” Mobley wrote. “Come along for the journey.”

USC proved to be just a one-season pit stop on that journey. But in that short time, Mobley left an indelible mark.

When he pledged to join a program that long toiled in relative hoops obscurity, USC had weathered nearly as many NCAA investigations (two) during the previous decade as NCAA tournament berths (three). The Trojans just missed the tournament in March 2018 when coach Andy Enfield hired assistant Eric Mobley to fill the vacancy left by Tony Bland, who was fired for his role in college basketball’s corruption and bribery probe.

Eric Mobley’s youngest son, Evan, just happened to be emerging as a generational prospect. Other blueblood programs largely stopped recruiting the big man, convinced that his future at USC, where his brother and fellow five-star prospect Isaiah also signed, was a foregone conclusion.

By the time Evan officially became a Trojan, the hype following him had reached a fever pitch. Most scouts considered him either the best or second-best prospect in the nation. Etop Udo-Ema, the founder of his AAU program, Compton Magic, declared Mobley one of the top three prospects to come out of California. His high school coach, Ray Barefield, described him as “a little bit of the Greek Freak [Giannis Antetokounmpo] and Kevin Durant, all in one.”

Evan Mobley, a standout at Rancho Christian in Temecula and the consensus No. 1 basketball prospect in the country, has committed to USC.

Expectations were high. And yet, Mobley wasted no time in meeting them. He scored 21 points in his debut. Defenses routinely double-teamed him thereafter, forcing the freshman to adjust. So he started creating offense on his own, pulling up from three-point range or taking on slow-footed big men off the dribble in a way few seven-footers could.

“There’s no ceiling with his development,” Udo-Ema said. “He could be anything. He could be KD. He could be Giannis. He could be a mix. Who knows what he’s going to develop into, depending on where he goes and who’s coaching him. But he really is a blank canvas.”

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His athleticism was even more freakish on the defensive end, where his prowess patrolling the paint changed the tenor of games. It was his presence — and 7-foot-5 wingspan — that anchored a stingy USC defense that held opponents to just 42% shooting inside the arc, the lowest of any defense in the nation.

Mobley led the Pac-12 in rebounds per game (8.7) and blocks (2.9), while also averaging 16.4 points and 2.4 assists in his lone season, leaving little room for doubt about his skill set.

But his demeanor remains a question mark for some scouts. At times during his freshman season, the star 7-footer appeared unwilling to use those prodigious skills to take control of a game. Two NBA scouts said that the only doubts about Mobley’s NBA future pertained to his “heart and motor and toughness.”

But as USC embarked on what would become a magical March run, Mobley addressed those lingering doubts with a resounding statement at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The freshman took over, scoring 52 points, reeling in 18 rebounds and blocking 10 shots during two games. When brothe, Isaiah stepped forward in the NCAA tournament, Evan embraced a more complementary role, filling the gaps wherever he was needed.

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USC lost to top-seeded Gonzaga 85-66 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, ending the Trojans’ hopes of reaching the Final Four.

“Evan is the most unselfish superstar we’ve ever coached,” Enfield said after USC’s 85-66 loss to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. “He’s going to have a bright, bright future in the NBA. The one thing about Evan Mobley is he’s a flat-out winner.”

He became the first Trojan to win conference player of the year since Sam Clancy in 2002. But neither Clancy nor the other two Trojans to have won the award swept all the conference’s top honors as Mobley did this season. The freshman won Pac-12 player of the year, defensive player of the year and freshman of the year, becoming the second player in college basketball history, after current Lakers star Anthony Davis, to sweep a major conference’s honors.

Still, no USC fans were able to witness his remarkable rise. Mobley never played in front of fans at Galen Center due to the pandemic. But in front of empty stands, the 7-footer lived up to the expectations that had followed him from Rancho Christian School.

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Those expectations are sure to soar from here, with Mobley expected to be a top-three pick. The only Trojan ever selected that high was guard O.J. Mayo, who was drafted third overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008. Mobley, after one stellar season, could be selected higher.

“I’m glad I came and chose this school to play for,” Mobley said, reflecting after USC’s loss to Gonzaga. “It was everything I hoped it would be.”


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