USC’s Isaiah Mobley forges a path to the NBA and ignores comparisons to his brother

USC forward Isaiah Mobley shoots as UCLA center Myles Johnson defends.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley shoots as UCLA center Myles Johnson defends during the first half on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Over the years, as their sons grew into basketball stars, sprouting up and up and up toward seven feet, the Mobleys lived by a mantra with their two boys, who were born less than two years apart.

Run your own race.

Raising two competitive sons who from birth were bound to be compared, it was an essential lesson, one both Evan and Isaiah Mobley would return to often as they soared to stardom, each taking very different routes to get there. For Isaiah, it rang especially true this season as he waited on his NBA dreams while watching his younger brother, Evan, simultaneously fulfill them.


As Isaiah leads third-seeded USC against sixth-seeded Washington in the Pac-12 tournament Thursday, his younger brother remains the runaway favorite for NBA rookie of the year. Both Mobley brothers are at peace with their place in the race.

“That was always the thing,” said Nicol Mobley, their mother. “It’s not going to be the same for you. Eric is a coach. I’m a teacher. So we know that everyone learns and does things differently but can be just as successful. How you get there can be completely different. That’s what we live by.”

At its start, more than three years ago, Isaiah intended that race to be more of a sprint. He arrived at USC with five-star expectations and the weight of those stars on his shoulders. He wondered then how quickly he might get to the NBA. But a foot injury meant starting late as a freshman, and from there, Isaiah struggled just to find his footing.

He tried to will himself forward, to match output with his expectations. But Nicol reminded him again that not everyone starts fast.

A new deal between Andy Enfield and USC is expected to keep the men’s basketball coach in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.

March 9, 2022

“Early on, I just expected so much of myself,” recalled Mobley, who averaged just 6.2 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman.

It wasn’t until last March as a sophomore that Mobley seemed to settle in. His breakthrough began at this time last year, as the 6-foot-10 forward knocked down two three-pointers in a double-overtime win over Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. Mobley had hit just seven from deep all season but proceeded to knock down seven of his next nine as USC rolled to the Elite Eight.


His 19 points against Gonzaga would be a lone bright spot in a brutal loss that kept the Trojans out of the Final Four.

The postseason outburst earned him an invite to the NBA scouting combine, where he turned some heads as a possible second-round sleeper. Mobley ultimately decided to return to USC, knowing deep down he could use another year. This time, he had plans to apply what he learned about what it takes to reach the NBA.

The results this season have been undeniable. Mobley is averaging 14.6 points and 8.5 rebounds, both of which lead the team, but the difference was clear off the stat sheet as well.

USC forward Isaiah Mobley drives against California forward Grant Anticevich.
USC forward Isaiah Mobley drives against California forward Grant Anticevich during the first half in Berkeley on Jan. 6.
(Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

“Him coming back and taking what he learned,” Nicol said, “it’s been a beautiful thing.”

USC coach Andy Enfield said Mobley has improved as a defender, as a passer, as a shooter. He’s gotten stronger, too, better holding his ground against big men on the block.

“He’s had a great year,” Enfield said.

The most critical stretch of that season is still ahead. With its eyes on another March run, USC needs Mobley to be at his best over the next several weeks. Scouts will be watching the Trojans’ leading scorer closely.


James Keefe capped a banked in a short jumper at the buzzer as Stanford shocked eight-seeded Arizona State 71-70 in the Pac-12 tournament opener.

March 9, 2022

The expectation is it’ll be Mobley’s last March at USC. But he won’t say as much just yet. For now, he’s just hoping to soak in his last few weeks, to enjoy the home stretch of a college career that has been more of a marathon than he first planned.

“I’ve been able to run my race,” Mobley said. “I’ve enjoyed my journey. I think it’s cool. I have no problem being a hero on my third year, trying to make another run, and then also using that experience I’ve learned from playing some big-time games, to not be rattled when I’m here. My journey has been pure and it’s been great. I’m glad I’ve been through everything I went through.”